Why Was Katie Couric On A Dinner Date With NBC?

It's just a brief item, reporting that NBC chief Jeff Zucker was spotted with "old pal Katie Couric huddling over dinner at Elio's." But Page Six's sighting of the CBS Evening News anchor with her old Today boss will inevitably stoke further speculation about the possibility she might take over for Tim Russert at NBC's Meet The Press. The alleged dinner comes barely a week after the Times reported NBC executives were bandying Couric's name as a possible anchor for the Sunday-morning interview show. Gossip aside, let's move on to speculation: Wouldn't the gig just be an awful reprise of the CBS Evening News disaster?

NBC has to want Couric for Meet The Press. Her interview with Sarah Palin was the most memorable television of the election and arguably changed its course. Even before that, Couric's sit-downs for Today were fondly remembered. But she's expensive, with $40 million left on her $15-million-a-year CBS contract.

And should Couric even take the job, assuming NBC offered, complete with an attractive salary? The situation at Meet The Press parallels the CBS Evening News a bit too closely, perhaps.

The show is heavy on old-school, old-media respectability but short on ratings upside. Yes, Russert grew viewership and kept the show in the lead even among younger viewers. But the long-running — longest-running, actually, after 60 years — show has a reserved approach that would strain to compete with the likes of the Daily Show should the show try and tack in that more opinionated direction amid continued weak ratings (numbers have, naturally, fallen since Russert's death). It wasn't long ago that Kurt Andersen wondered in New York if Meet The Press "will simply cease to exist."

Maybe Couric should just bank the $40 million and devote herself to her quirky YouTube channel once her contract is up. She could no doubt use a break from sweating the ratings every night. (Thank God there's none of that sort of pressure online!)