Apr 112006
 
Authors: Gail Shister Knight Ridder Newspapers

Connie Chung to Katie Couric: Just say no.

Chung, the last (and first) female anchor on the weeknight “CBS Evening News,” has advised just-named Couric to cut back on her numerous charity appearances because her new gig “is a killer job.”

Chung, 59, called Couric, 49, last week to congratulate the “Today” star on becoming the first woman to solo anchor a network evening newscast. She debuts in September.

“The only advice I volunteered, which is none of my business, is that she’s generous, to a fault, with her time,” says Chung, whose forced on-air partnership with Dan Rather lasted two painful years, until ’95.

Couric “finds it very, very hard to say no to people who want a piece of her. I told her she just has to, once in a while. She’s got a lot on her plate. It’s a killer job on a solo basis.”

As the face of CBS News, Couric, a widowed mother of two, will be on call 24/7, Chung says.

“Any time there’s a big breaking story, she’s the one who has to be called immediately. If the network wants to have an anchor at some hot spot in the world, she’ll have to go. On ‘Today,’ she and Matt (Lauer) could alternate trips.”

Though she didn’t bring it up in their conversation, Chung cautions Couric against spreading herself too thin at work, too.

In addition to her anchor duties, Couric probably will do four or five pieces a year for “60 Minutes,” according to executive producer Jeff Fager. Chung says she was unable to juggle “Evening News” with her own weekly newsmagazine, “Eye to Eye.” And she was only a co-anchor.

“I always found it too difficult, too time-consuming,” she explains. “It’s incredibly hard to do stories at the same time as anchoring the evening news.”

Moreover, with “60 Minutes,” the stories “are not just interviews in New York. It’s not the nature of the program. You’re going all over the world.”

While thrilled with Couric’s appointment, Chung says she hopes “no one feels that the quota has been satisfied, because there’s plenty of room for lots of women at the top.” (She is Connie, hear her roar!)

In that vein, Chung also hopes that media meanies don’t pit Couric against “ABC World News Tonight” co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas as some kind of catfight.

“It’s fine if they position all the individuals against each other – (ABC’s) Bob Woodruff and (NBC’s) Brian Williams.”

Otherwise, “it’s just plain sexist. I know it’s a tradition, but I’d love to see the tradition broken.”

___

Speaking of breaking tradition …

Five or six years ago, then-“CBS Evening News” chief Jim Murphy argued that the network should be grooming a woman to replace Rather eventually because “it was time, and being first is always smart,” Murphy says.

His colleagues’ reaction? “They looked at me like I had three heads,” Murphy says.

He says he wasn’t surprised.

“People traditionally are afraid of radical changes. They’re worried about whether it could lead to their downfall.”

Another factor: “Research allegedly says that people in crisis feel more comfortable with a man in charge,” says Murphy. “It’s always bandied about in the business as if it were the gospel rule.

“If Margaret Thatcher can rule a country, a woman can anchor the evening news.”

Murphy, 45, left CBS after 13 years when his contract expired in January. He ran “Evening News” the previous six years.

Hiring Couric was a “titanic” move by CBS, in Murphy’s estimation.

“When it comes to paycheck (an estimated $15 million a year) and stature and celebrity, she’s one of the biggest players in the history of the business. CBS News needed to make a statement about how far it would go to rebuild itself.”

Couric will be a success on the third-ranked newscast, Murphy predicts.

“All you have to do is put on a good broadcast and prove she’s as smart as she obviously is.”

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