TV Article

Anchors Away

What makes a good news anchor? -- Ken Tucker analyzes the traits needed to lead a network newscast

The most honest answer to the question ''Will Katie Couric make a credible anchor?'' is ''Yes...and so would Al Roker.'' They can both read a TelePrompTer with panache and throw a story to a network correspondent like nobody's beeswax. But here's the secret to being a well-watched, most-trusted anchor: Ordinary news nights don't matter. Five times a week, he can intone gravely or roll his eyes whenever he says, ''Sources tell us...'' People don't really care as long as they get about 10 minutes of actual news, some nifty commercials for senior-citizen products, plus a softball story like the quest of one old lady in Dubuque, Iowa, to save the whalebone corset.

No, what really matters is how an anchor behaves during a crisis: a declaration of war, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack. That's when people turn away from Bill O'Reilly and follow their pituitary-glandular instinct to ABC, CBS, or NBC. TV comfort is best doled out one-on-one, anchor-to-viewer—as such, double-teams like ABC's Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff usually don't become destination points. (It also doesn't help that Vargas and Woodruff have all the chemistry of one of those ritzy, uptight couples whose kid gets bumped off in the pre-credits to a Law & Order episode.) During an emergency, we want someone to ask rapid, pointed follow-up questions, which is why...damn, Peter Jennings, you are missed.

So, sure, Couric comfort may do as well at CBS as Dan Rather reassurance did. And there's a bonus to being younger and more lightweight: Seeing Katie dispatched in a trench coat to a tropical storm and possibly being blown off her stilettos in a gusting wet wind? Priceless...

Originally posted Jan 27, 2006 Published in issue #861 Feb 03, 2006 Order article reprints