All eyes were on Katie Couric’s white jacket — and her ratings — as she debuted on the CBS Evening News on Tuesday, Sept. 5. And the former Today show host didn’t disappoint: She lured 13.6 million viewers her opening night, grabbing CBS’ best numbers in eight years. By the end of the week, when the novelty of the first solo female anchor subsided — Would she show some leg? Yes; could she tackle hard news? Absolutely — ratings returned from the stratosphere. By Friday, Sept. 8, Couric had dropped to 7.4 million viewers, still impressive enough for the Tiffany Network to win the week over ABC’s World News and NBC Nightly News for the first time since June 2001.
Unfortunately for CBS, things got worse from there. On Monday, Sept. 11, CBS fell behind NBC and ABC in viewers. So the natural question is: Just how low will Couric go? It’s too soon to make that call, says news analyst Andrew Tyndall. ”The high number on the first day was to be expected when the network invested so much money on promotion,” he says. ”We won’t know for six months what the appeal of her journalism will be. All we’re seeing right now is curiosity.”
And all CBS sees? Improvement. Couric bumped up year-to-year viewership by 3.7 million viewers last week, while NBC and ABC each lost more than 2 million. ”Parity with the other guys is a victory for us,” says CBS’ head of research David Poltrack. ”We were third place going into this. So we’re getting a nice head start.”