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CBS Exec: Katie Couric Is Leaving Evening News

After months of rumors, a top executive at CBS News has told the AP that Katie Couric won't be continuing in the anchor chair at Evening News when her $15 million contract runs out in June. She will have served in the role for nearly five years, the first woman to ever helm a network newscast alone. According to the AP, reports that she's eyeing a syndicated talk show are correct, and several companies are already vying to produce the series starting in 2012. Couric, 54, has been running in third place behind her competitors at ABC and NBC since her first month in the anchor seat. Spokesmen for Couric and CBS wouldn't confirm the report, but apparently the network's looking at 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley, the Early Show's Harry Smith, and Evening News weekend anchor Russ Mitchell as potential replacements.

Couric started off her tenure in 2006 with a host of changes to the evening-news format. She was more friendly and informal, straying from the script and allowing herself more off-the-cuff moments. But viewers didn't immediately take to the changes, and CBS didn't give her much time to win them over. Soon enough, she was soberly reading the news like her other anchor counterparts. This didn't help matters much; viewership continued to sink, and it wasn't long before there was talk that CBS would buy out the rest of her contract after the 2008 presidential elections. But Couric performed well during those heady days, scoring perhaps the election's most-talked-about takedown, a sedate sit-down with vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Still, she trails Diane Sawyer and the first-place Brian Williams by millions of viewers. The first quarter of 2011 was the worst in nineteen years for CBS Evening News in terms of ratings. In fact, it may have been the worst ever — Nielsen numbers go back to only 1992.

AP source: Couric leaving news anchor post [AP]
Related: Alas Poor Couric: Joe Hagan's 2007 profile of Katie [NYM]
Update: The Times Magazine just posted Andrew Goldman's interview with Couric from next week's issue. In it, she admits it's "true" she's been "discussing the possibilities" of a show with Jeff Zucker. "In retrospect I would have given people what they were used to, a traditional newscast," she said of her controversial first days at CBS. "And then as they got to know me and got more comfortable, then I would’ve started toying with the format and trying new things. I think we were overly ambitious."

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Photo: Courtesy of CBS