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No News Not the Best News For Katie Couric's Debut

How's that for credentials? He carried on about how there is too much arguing and not enough civilized discourse in America, but there was nothing civilized about his piece, which included footage of pro wrestlers battling in the ring.

Spurlock really seemed to be doing a variation on Richard Nixon's unfortunate "Silent Majority" tirade of many long years ago. Couric said that another stale face, that of Rush Limbaugh, would appear in the "free speech" segment Thursday. Oh goody! Set the TiVo now!

Then the show reached its lowest point with an item that Couric had coyly promoted earlier in the day on the CBS Web site: a photograph of Suri Cruise, the previously hidden baby of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The portrait will be on the cover of Vanity Fair, out today -- so the segment was a shameless plug as well as celebrity trash, the kind of thing better saved for "Entertainment Tonight" and its ilk.

A so-so human-interest piece by Steve Hartman, the schmaltz king, closed the show. Or almost closed it. Gettin' real folksy with viewers, Couric asked them to send in suggestions on how she should sign off the newscast. There was a montage of sign-offs from the past -- including Edward R. Murrow's immortal "Good night, and good luck," even though Murrow never anchored the evening news.

Some people will say that including the image of Murrow on such a frothy, funsy broadcast as the Couric premiere was sacrilege, and that Murrow is spinning in his grave. In fact, if Murrow were going to spin in his grave, he would have started long ago, when "infotainment" first appeared on the TV horizon and newscasters became pop personalities akin to movie stars and actors appearing in sitcoms. Murrow must be all spun out by now. It's been downhill for a long time.

Couric's broadcast did not seem to hasten the decline and fall of TV news, but it didn't offer anything really new, either -- and on its first outing, it didn't offer anything news. A stranger from another planet tuning in the show would have to assume nothing happened in America or the world yesterday except that a photo of Tom Cruise's baby materialized.

Viewers hoping to hate Couric during the long, long countdown to Katie Day had to be disappointed, but so would those expecting a revelation. Coming weeks will tell both how Couric wears in the new assignment, and whether she'll lure younger viewers to a broadcast that has mainly appealed to men who get up to use the bathroom too often at night.

One wants to wish her well on the basis of her tremendous charm, but opening night left acres and acres of room for improvement.

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