CBS Prepares to Land a New Anchor

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

NBC executives expect Katie Couric to leave the "Today" show and accept an offer from CBS to become the first woman to anchor a network evening newscast on her own, with an announcement of her departure likely as early as this week, according to well-placed sources at both networks and others familiar with the negotiations.

The tentative plan is for a two-step process in which Couric first announces her departure from NBC, which would like to give her a warm send-off after a decade in which she helped make "Today" the top-rated morning program. Meredith Vieira, co-host of ABC's "The View" and host of the syndicated "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," has been offered the job of replacing Couric and is seriously considering it, some of these sources say.

An announcement that Couric will succeed Bob Schieffer as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" will come later, in part because the final contractual details -- which will include a regular spot on "60 Minutes" -- have not been worked out, the sources say. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract talks have not been completed.

Couric's pending departure has been the focus of intense media speculation, both because of her celebrity and the historic nature of the move. Three women -- Barbara Walters at ABC, Connie Chung at CBS and Elizabeth Vargas, who was elevated in January at ABC's "World News Tonight" -- have co-anchored alongside men. But Couric would be the first woman in broadcast network history to fly solo at 6:30 p.m.

Couric's spokesman declined to comment yesterday, as did the press offices at NBC and CBS.

Couric, 49, who worked as a reporter at Washington's WRC before joining "Today" and becoming co-host in 1991, would be taking over a third-place evening newscast that has lately seen some ratings growth under Schieffer, who succeeded Dan Rather 13 months ago. Schieffer, 69, is a Couric supporter who has said he does not want to stay in the job indefinitely.

While Couric's NBC contract does not expire until early May, the network gave her permission to negotiate early with CBS in hopes of resolving the huge cloud hanging over its morning show. Both networks would like the matter settled before the May "upfront" meetings at which they make presentations to advertisers about the next season. Couric plans to work with NBC on the timing of her departure and is determined not to damage what has been a productive relationship with the network, say people familiar with her situation.

Couric is earning $15 million to $16 million a year under the contract she signed in 2001 and CBS is expected to exceed that. The domino effect of her decision will clearly impact all three networks.

Vieira, 49, who is being courted by NBC executives for Couric's seat, is a former "60 Minutes" correspondent with deep roots in network news. The other "Today" contenders are NBC insiders, White House reporter Campbell Brown, who also co-hosts "Weekend Today," and correspondent Natalie Morales.

Vieira, who has turned down other morning-show offers in the past, is said to be torn because she enjoys the two programs she hosts now and is concerned about the effect of a more demanding schedule on her husband, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Vieira's agent, Michael Glantz, said yesterday: "Probably no one in this business is more qualified. Meredith is certainly flattered to be the subject of all this attention and certainly would have to consider all possibilities."

Barbara Walters, who founded the morning chat show "The View" and is a former co-host of "Today," said yesterday she would support Vieira no matter what her decision. "We would miss Meredith terribly, but I would understand if she decided to pursue this new and challenging opportunity . . . As for 'The View,' it is a very strong franchise and if Meredith did decide to leave, 'The View' would, of course, continue."

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