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Thursday, July 13, 2006 | Katie Couric comes to town tomorrow, the fifth stop in a national pulse-reading to get a handle on what audiences want from her as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

She doesn’t want my input, of course, even if I did watch the “Today Show” because of her. Some people love Katie Couric, some people can’t stand her. In my opinion, she is a regular person with very good news sense, and a totally commercial personality. Most of all, she is a gamer. A gamer is a player who always shows up when the chips are down. Joe Montana was a gamer. Reggie Jackson was a gamer. Tiger Woods is a gamer. Katie Couric is a gamer. She covered the Pentagon before she came to “Today.” She knows what to do when a big story pops.

I should point out that my opinion doesn’t count. CBS is looking for ways to bring a younger, mainly female, demographic to the 6 p.m. slot. I am a 63-year-old male. Sigh. My demographic lives in an ancient world. My kind already watches the evening news. My biggest entertainment excitement of the summer is wondering if the “CBS Evening News” will start showing car commercials when Katie takes the anchor seat in September. It would be the first time since 1993 that the advertising world believes I might actually be interested in buying something you can’t find in a drugstore.

That doesn’t make Katie any less a gamer. A gamer in television news who is also a totally commercial personality is worth her weight in gold. If Katie weighs 130 pounds, and gold is $650 an ounce, Katie in gold is worth $1,352,000, a month, which is just about what CBS is paying her to become anchor of the “Evening News,” which is just about right. CBS isn’t paying her all that money because some people love her. CBS just wants the “Evening News” to improve in the ratings, so advertisers will pay more, and CBS and National Amusements will make more money.

It’s always all about money. If the criterion is content, or meaning to the world, “The Today Show” essentially is insignificant. If the criterion is money, “The Today Show” is the most lucrative programming on television, and that’s what made Katie so valuable.

We can just be grateful she’s also a gamer. I’ll bet there isn’t a newspaper publisher in the country who wouldn’t pay an arm and a leg (somewhere in the middle-upper five figures, in newspaper values) to have a Katie Couric clone covering City Hall.

The “CBS Evening News” will be different with Katie as anchor. At least it better be. Having Katie Couric read news is like having Greg Maddux pitch batting practice. She is (I predict) going to be an interviewer as well as an anchor, and she will be reporting live a lot, both hard and soft news, even the very soft but compelling stories that Charles Kuralt used to find.

I can’t see this new show being contained to a half-hour. I wonder if the “CBS Evening News” will be expanded to an hour, opening with a news summary, then to analysis, in the “Lehrer News Hour” style without the stuffiness, and conclude with features, hard or soft, produced in a Kuralt-Couric style.

The feature part lets Katie’s commerciality come out, legs and all (Google “Katie Couric’s legs” for links to 130 sites), and above all else, CBS has to figure out a legitimate way to keep Katie’s totally commercial personality on the field.

That is where her everyday value is. Being a gamer is great, but a gamer shows up only in the really great games, and there aren’t too many of those in the daily news, thank God. If CBS is going to get its bang for the buck, she is going to have to emerge, somehow, in the viewer’s mind as “America’s Evening News Sweetheart,” highly likeable, highly mobile, highly diversified, and highly respected.

God help them if they advertise her that way, but that is the end effect of putting all her skills to use, as ways to maximize ratings, which is the only thing that matters.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com. Or, send a letter to the editor.

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