Toward a Unified Couric-Vieira Departure Theory

What their departures from broadcast news tell us about the current media moment

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As you may have heard, Meredith Vieira is expected to leave the Today show when her contract expires later this year. TV Guide broke the news, and pretty much every other news outlet ran with the story. Now begins the speculation for who will replace her (Ann Curry is the leading candidate) and what she will do (voluntarily leaving an $11 million a year job that's over before some people eat breakfast is not exactly the sort of thing that elicits terrible pangs of sympathy).

The news comes on the heels of chatter that Katie Couric will be stepping down from her perch as the anchor of the CBS Evening News in June. While Couric has not made a definitive declaration, much has been made of an interview with Andrew Goldman set to run in The New York Times Magazine this Sunday (but already available and well-cited online), wherein Couric admits she's been "discussing the possibilities" of hosting a syndicated show with Jeff Zucker, her old boss at Today.

Vieira, of course, replaced Couric on Today in 2006. And while it's doubtful Vieira has the gravitas or the desire to step toward the warm glow of the evening news flame, it seems more likely that Vieira is actually several steps ahead of Couric, and is determined to avoid her fate.  Here's what Vieira may realize:

We're In The Post-Anchor Era This is theory put forth by Slate's Jack Shaffer, who notes that Couric suffered from bad timing because "the job and the audience aren't what they were when John Chancellor, Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, and even Peter Jennings walked the earth." He cites the explosion of news choices on cable and the web, and the points to the loss of audience (only old people watch network news). But the main reason he suggests anchors are now post-anchors is because "the programs they host aren't really news programs anymore." In other words, new has become entertainment. The program Vieira currently hosts is an entertainment show posing as a newscast, so she has directly helped contribute to the death of the news anchor (and thus the arrival of the post-anchor era). Surely, in her mind, the next era after the Post-Anchor Era is the Post-Morning Show Era.

We're Well Past The Post-Anchor Era And Into The Post-Cable Era Taking dead aim at the post-anchor theory (and calling it old hat), Jesse Walker of Reason posits that we are actually in the "post-cable period." (Shafer gracefully admitted he'd been "one-upped" by Walker on Twitter). While Walker never quite defines what he means by "post cable," he seems to be speaking for anybody under the age of 35 when he says "Katie Couric is just another ghost in our laptops, popping up at irregular intervals when our peers see fit to link to her. Her rivals aren't just Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer; they're Rebecca Black and the Star Wars kid. Couric never was an anchor for us, because it's been a long time since the person who happens to read the news at 6:30 was keeping us moored." It seems quite likely that Walker would lump Vieira and Couric into the same frumpy old media box, and that he'd consider them different without distinction. Vieira, aware that she to is a ghost, is seeking to join the living. Walker would likely advise her to start a Tumblr (and possibly grow a beard).

We're In An Indefinable Era That Is Definitely Post-Something Sure, some people found Bret Easton Ellis' "post-Empire" theory a little hard to follow, but Vieira may know more than the rest of us. And, realizing that she's nothing like the icons Ellis used to define "post-Empire" (it is defined but what is it is not), she wants to at least cut things off before she is irrevocably branded as "Empire" (as Katie Couric now surely is). Using Couric as a roadmap, Vieira is now veering hard in the opposite direction, lest she someday be relegated to stepping down from a position of power only to enter the unseemly world of daytime television talk shows.  Oh wait, she already did that.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.