So, what will Katie Couric do next?

The doyenne of female newscasters is set to quit CBS – and Piers Morgan should be worried

Katie Couric, who has read the evening news on CBS for five years, left the safety of her Manhattan studio yesterday for Baghdad to report on progress in Iraq eight years after the US-led invasion. It is the kind of assignment that is meant to remind viewers that highly paid anchors are more than just pretty faces.

This may be moot for 54-year-old Ms Couric, however. Recently anointed the 22nd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes by virtue of her stewardship of the CBS Evening News – above both Melinda Gates and Madonna – she is reportedly on the brink of surrendering to poor ratings and throwing in the towel. Already, the focus of speculation has turned to what she will do next and who will replace her.

It should not have turned out this way. It was David Letterman, the veteran late-night man on CBS, who reminded Couric when she appeared last month on his show that American news anchors are expected to "ride into the sunset" with their jobs. "Once you take that anchor chair, that's what you do," he said. Among those he doubtless had in mind was the late, great Walter Cronkite, also of CBS News.

Couric, moreover, was seen as a mould-breaker when she debuted at CBS in 2006. Defecting from NBC after 15 years co-hosting the breakfast Today Show, she was the first woman to anchor a network evening news bulletin alone. Her mission: to lift the show from its number three spot behind both ABC and NBC.

If ratings are the final arbiter of success, however, the appointment of Couric, who has never shaken off her reputation as a "perky" presence on TV as against one with the kind of gravitas associated with news anchors, has not worked. Her programme is still third in the ratings. Indeed, audience numbers in the first quarter of this year were worse than at any time for CBS since 1992.

It is a source of continuing frustration for CBS, which historically dominated serious news programming. After Cronkite came Dan Rather, who relished reporting beyond the studio; the network is also still home to 60 Minutes, the current affairs show without peer in the US.

Neither Ms Couric nor her representatives have publicly confirmed that she is to leave her position. Little, however, has been done to quash the speculation that it will happen when her current $15m-a-year contract expires on 4 June. The Associated Press news agency has reported her imminent departure as fact.

"We're having ongoing discussions with Katie Couric," Sonya McNair, a CBS News spokeswoman, said. "We have no announcements to make at this time. Until we do, we will continue to decline comment on rumour or speculation." However, in an interview with the New York Times, Ms Couric came close to conceding that change was afoot. Challenged about reports that she has been talking to her old NBC boss, Jeff Zucker, she replied: "We talk a lot and, yes, we've been discussing the possibilities. That's true."

Those possibilities would appear to include, above all, a return to daytime television as the host of her own syndicated chat show. The timing would be propitious, if only because next month will see Oprah Winfrey drop the curtain for the last time on her syndicated show as she focuses on running her new cable channel, OWN. Still on the dial will be Ellen DeGeneres, but the departure of Winfrey leaves a gaping hole.

Another "news" person experimenting with TV talk in America is the former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan. Morgan has helped CNN overtake rival MSNBC in the primetime ratings war. He also has more viewers than anyone else with their own primetime slot on CNN, an early feather in his cap. If Couric eschews the daytime syndication option and remains at CBS, she and Morgan could find themselves competing head to head.

Her departure from the anchor chair would delight the conservative right and Tea Partiers, who still blame Couric for helping to derail Sarah Palin in 2008 with a series of probing interviews. Some will see the glass ceiling reconstituting itself in the news business that is still mostly male-driven.

There are no women among those now being tipped as her likely successor, with Scott Pelley, a widely respected correspondent with 60 Minutes, emerging as the favourite.

Rome Hartman, Couric's first executive producer when she went to CBS, says she should hold her head high. "I don't think it's right to think of it as, or call it, a failure," he said. "There are people who love Katie and those who don't love her, and that was a factor. But it was the overall dynamics. There was a rock that we couldn't move and I don't think it would have mattered who we would have put in there."

And Ms Couric may want to ponder this. Her fortunes – monetary and otherwise – in the world of syndicated chat might not be so terrible. Oprah and Ellen are respectively numbers 3 and 10 on that most powerful women list.

The Katie Couric story

Shortly after throwing her notes in the air in jubilation, a celebratory martini was thrust into Katie Couric's hand when she finished her first broadcast for CBS Evening News in September 2006. She had just become the first woman to solo anchor a weekday evening news programme on a major American network – a coveted title.

Born in Virginia, Couric, 54, started her career as a desk assistant at the ABC broadcasting network before working her way up, enjoying stints at CNN and NBC along the way. However, it is the last four-and-a-half years at CBS, which saw her interview countless top US figures including President Obama and Sarah Palin, that has cemented Couric's position as a household name.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - London - £40K plus benefits - Salary negotiable

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: A leading consu...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat