First, I have to disclose that I’m a boomer and a political junkie. I get my TV news from The Daily Show, don’t normally watch the evening news on any network and haven’t watched Saturday Night Live in years.
However, this week, I’ve watched clips of the CBS Evening News and SNL on YouTube, a lot! And apparently, I was not alone. According to a NY Times story from earlier this week, by Tuesday of this week "the first Couric-Palin interview last Wednesday had been viewed more than 1.4 million times on YouTube, while the parody of the interview on SNL was streamed more than 4 million times on NBC.com, viewed in full more than 600,000 times on YouTube and in shorter clips many more hundreds of thousands of times."
And both Katie Couric and SNL have Sarah Palin to thank for it.
In July, rumors were flying that Katie Couric would leave the CBS Evening News after the election. She was reportedly unhappy about her show’s sluggish ratings. At $15 million per year, her contract, which expires in 2011, is the richest in television news by millions. The network was going to have to find another show for Couric, or pay her to do nothing at all. All that’s changed with this week’s interviews with Sarah Palin and John McCain. At least, it should have changed.
Starting this week, she’s having audience success. And according to a story by Paul J. Gough in Reuters Tuesday, CBS Evening News viewership is up - 14% on Wednesday and 8% on Thursday; website traffic is up, too, though CBS still lags ABC and NBC in the evening news department.
Jon Klein, the president of CNN’s domestic operations, said of the Palin interviews “it was brand-building for a woman who is still one of the very best journalists out there.” So, what is it about the experience of watching Katie Couric that is improving? Is she doing a better job interviewing guests? Are multipart interviews more compelling because they’re more in-depth? Do we like her better when her discussion partner seems less intelligent than we think we are? When her interviews make us laugh?
I think it’s the humor. We’re seeing it in advertising, millennials have told us so, and John Stewart is the most trusted news anchor in the country. Katie Couric’s resurrection is the latest evidence that audiences of all types pay attention to humor, even when the subject is a serious one. These are dark days - here’s hoping Katie Couric can continue to help us understand them and make us laugh.