Couric takes over CBS anchor spot

By David Bauder

NEW YORK | Katie Couric began her first night as anchor of “CBS Evening News” on Tuesday by standing in front of a video board displaying a fast-moving rundown of stories ranging from the Taliban to Suri Cruise.

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

She ended the historic evening by asking viewers for help in crafting a distinctive sign-off.

“But for now, all I have to say is, I’m Katie Couric, thank you so much for watching, and I hope to see you tomorrow night.”

Tuesday capped a tumultuous two years for network evening newscasts. For more than two decades, the networks had been the TV homes of Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather. Now Couric, the first female network face, will compete against Brian Williams at the top-rated NBC “Nightly News” and Charles Gibson at ABC’s “World News.”

Even before the first commercial break, Couric showed her willingness to try new things with an evening news format that she has called formulaic.

She was introduced by a voiceover recorded by the legendary Walter Cronkite, whose tenure as CBS anchor ended in 1981. She quickly introduced a story about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a lengthy exclusive on a relatively slow news day. Correspondent Lara Logan was taken by a Taliban commander to view soldiers openly displaying their weapons less than 10 miles from a U.S. base.

That story segued into a conventional report by White House correspondent Jim Axelrod on a speech given by President Bush on the terrorist threat.

Recalling her 15 years on NBC’s “Today” show, Couric, wearing a white one-button jacket over a black blouse, then interviewed columnist Thomas Friedman of The New York Times about the Taliban, the fight against terror and the upcoming fifth anniversary of the terror attacks.

The end of the broadcast found her leaning against the edge of a desk on the redesigned “CBS Evening News” set, instead of seated behind it. After acknowledging that many people were wondering how she would sign off, Couric played clips of other signoffs, ranging from Cronkite’s “and that’s the way it is” to Rather’s ridiculed “courage” to Will Ferrell’s “you stay classy, San Diego,” as the fictitious movie anchorman Ron Burgundy.

“I’m not sure any of those will work for me,” Couric said, then asked viewers, in all seriousness, to log onto the CBS News web site and send her suggestions.

“And who knows,” she said, “maybe one will actually stick.”