Couric gets on a roll by utilizing all her talents

By David Bauder

She hosts a pre-Grammy Awards special Wednesday.

NEW YORK — Imagine what might have happened to Katie Couric a couple of weeks ago if she hadn’t kept her briefing books straight.

Last Tuesday she interviewed Lil Wayne, bowling with him and inviting the rap superstar to watch from the control room as she anchored the “CBS Evening News.” Wednesday she talked to President Obama. Thursday she did reported news outside on a frigid night overlooking the Hudson River landing site of a damaged jet, and anchored a report on former President Bush’s farewell to the nation.

Then she flew overnight to Los Angeles, where she spent time hanging out with Justin Timberlake, on Friday.

The collision between music and politics came because of a pre-Grammy Awards special Couric is hosting on Wednesday (9 p.m. ). Besides Timberlake and Lil Wayne, featured artists are Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

The Grammys air Sunday on CBS, directly after a “60 Minutes” edition in which Couric has the first interview with Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who guided stricken U.S. Airways Flight 1549 to that safe Hudson River landing.

Couric’s been on a nice run lately, at least in part because she and CBS seem to have recognized the futility of keeping her to 20 minutes of reading news each night.

“When Katie is seen as having diverse talents, as she does, everybody wins,” says Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of the Grammys special.

Zirinsky put Couric through the paces, even flying Couric out to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for a segment or two last Thursday, returning in time for the news.

Versatility was not only a job requirement at the “Today” show, it was something Couric found necessary. She enjoys covering public policy and the Obama administration, but also loves following pop culture. She’s proud that she didn’t need a tutorial from her daughters to talk to the young music stars.

“These multiple platforms provide me with an opportunity to satisfy all of my interests, and this was really just a fun outlet for me,” says Couric, who was impressed by how savvy and interesting the musicians were.

“Sometimes people in show business get a bad name, that they are somehow shallow or vapid or not people of substance,” she says. “And, they all were (substantive) in their different ways. One thing they do have in common is they were all incredibly persistent and tenacious in a business where it’s easy to get eaten alive.”

It’s the second straight week in prime-time for Couric. CBS aired a special edition of the evening news at 8 p.m. Wednesday and, up against “American Idol,” its audience of 6.5 million was actually less than she’s been getting in her regular slot.

Yet if many of those viewers were not regulars of the “CBS Evening News,” than the network has achieved its goal of giving her more exposure.

It’s beginning to appear that CBS’ evening newscast is becoming more like its morning show, perpetually fated to third place, as the cable news networks increase their influence each year. That said, Couric’s broadcast is showing modest signs of ratings growth over the past few months after two years of relentless bad news.

“People who watch the ‘CBS Evening News’ don’t say, ‘I’m going to watch the third-rated newscast,”’ she says. “They say, ‘We like this newscast, we think they’re doing really quality work.’ Of course, if more people are saying that and thinking that, it’s great news. But it’s not something that I think about every day.”

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