Fresh-faced Couric makes ‘Evening News’ debut

By David Bauder The Associated Press

NEW YORK – After Katie Couric was introduced on her first night as “CBS Evening News” anchor by a Walter Cronkite voiceover, she delivered a fast-moving newscast that the legendary newsman might have found unrecognizable.

“Hi, everyone,” she began. “I’m very happy to be with you tonight.”

The rest of yesterday’s show featured outsiders delivering commentary, the first public pictures of Suri Cruise, a lengthy exclusive on the Taliban and Couric asking viewers for help in crafting a distinctive signoff.

At the end of her historic show as the first female face of network news, she was leaning up against the edge of her anchor desk, laughing at something said to her offscreen.

Couric’s long-awaited debut capped a tumultuous period for the evening news. For more than two decades, the network news was dominated by Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather. Now, Couric will compete against Brian Williams at top-rated NBC and Charles Gibson at ABC.

She arrived at CBS after 15 years as NBC’s “Today” show host, where she was accustomed to always being first in the ratings. The “CBS Evening News” is third, but Couric has said that could be liberating, offering a chance to try new things in a format she has called formulaic.

Incorporating her “Today” interviewing experience, Couric then brought New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman into the studio for a brief discussion on the terrorist threat.

“Things seemed to be going well in Afghanistan,” she said. “What happened? Why is it unraveling now?”

In almost breathless fashion, she zipped through a handful of headlines: a corporate turnover at Ford, mourning over the killed “crocodile hunter” – all before the first commercial.

The rest of the broadcast was dominated by longer features on drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and high school students who draw portraits of poor orphans across the world.

She made only one slip, mispronouncing “soil” as “sole” at one point but quickly correcting herself.

Couric’s only real nod to her newbie status came at the end, with a joking report on her difficulties coming up with a signoff. She showed clips of Cronkite, Chet Huntley, Dan Rather, Ted Baxter and even fictitious movie anchorman Ron Burgundy giving their final words, then invited viewers to submit suggestions via the CBS News web site.

“Thank you so much for watching,” she said, “and I hope to see you tomorrow night.”