Katie Couric’s descent into ratings hell

Perky Katie Couric is perky no more and her new, dour demeanor matches the sinking ratings of her failing evening newscast on CBS.

And while Katie is in the dumps, her colleagues in the media world continue to dump on her.

Writes Bill Carter in The New York Times:

The numbers are stark. Eight months into Katie Couric’s job as the first woman to anchor a network newscast on her own, her “CBS Evening News” has not only settled back into its long-held position of last among the evening news broadcasts, but also regularly falls short of the newscast that Ms. Couric replaced.

In the latest week’s ratings, “CBS Evening News” had its worst performance since the Nielsen company installed its “people meter” ratings system 20 years ago.

Ms. Couric professed to be unfazed. “Honestly, I think we’re going to see ebbs and flows,” she said in a telephone interview the day after receiving the ratings news. “I don’t think it’s a doom-and-gloom scenario.”

But it certainly is not a buoyant scenario either, as Sean McManus, the president of CBS News, acknowledged. “We are a distant third,” he said. “There is no way to sugarcoat that fact.”

CBS executives say their research had predicted that the newscast would continue to struggle in the ratings, even after the network’s enormous investment in Ms. Couric — an estimated $15 million in annual salary — as well as millions more to build a new set and promote her and her newscast.

But the network seemed not fully prepared for a host of other developments that followed its expensive decision.

There has been a cascade of hostile comments in the press. Members of the news staff were quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer as suggesting that Ms. Couric might stay only through the 2008 election. And a recent Gallup poll reinforced the notion that Ms. Couric had become a polarizing figure: 29 percent of respondents said that they did not like her, as opposed to 51 percent who said that they liked her. (Her competitors at ABC and NBC both had negative scores under 20 percent and positives around 60.)