Couric A Safe Bet For CBS News, MSNBC's Olbermann Too Edgy

CBS made the safe choice by hiring Katie Couric, but it seems it could have taken a riskier move--hiring MSNBC's wisecracking, very opinionated Keith Olbermann. This is according to a recent story in the New Yorkermagazine.

Olbermann, the anchor of "Countdown," was an outside choice to get the top news spot at CBS News. But in the end, Olbermann, known for his three-minute personal segment at the end of each newscast, wasn't "the right choice" for the major straight-laced news operation that is CBS News.

Still, CBS went with what it thought was a dramatic change--that of the first solo woman anchoring an evening network newscast. It also went with someone whose journalistic chops--especially when it comes to one-on-one interviews--made her an obvious fit inside the legendary CBS News.



But viewers rejected the move. And it now appears that it wasn't over genre or journalism. Viewers rejected Couric, and the CBS show, for offering up news in mostly the exact same way they always have--when all the while the whole TV and media news world was changing around them.

Give CBS credit for at least considering Olbermann--a left-leaning anchor/commentator who has gained a growing niche audience on MSNBC. But also give CBS a jeer for not shaking up the network news business when it had a major opportunity to define the next generation of broadcast network newscasts.

Okay. We get it. There's news and there's opinion--and in looking at the Olbermanns and, of course, the Bill O'Reillys of the world, you get a lot of the latter. How would CBS meld that opinionated world with what the traditional world of broadcast network news is currently about?

It isn't only about Olbermann and O'Reilly. Media executives believe Jon Stewart is also changing the news landscape. Comedians? Everyone wants to get in on the act. And, more importantly, in this digital world, everyone has a legitimate point of view. Entertaining views are even more welcome.

CBS chief executive Les Moonves wondered why we in the press spent so much time focusing on CBS News, when now all of the network news early evening newscasts are a fraction of revenues of big media companies.

The answer is: We are all trying to read the tea leaves--not just of old-line TV businesses, but what will become of new ones.

In the end, one guesses Olbermann would have been too polarizing. Couric, of course, had the bigger fan base. But considering what CBS ended up getting--on a pure ratings and revenue basis--what would have been the downside?

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