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Katie Couric, Douglas Edwards and Me

By RD Heldenfels Published: September 5, 2006

Katie Couric's debut tonight on ''The CBS Evening News'' was only half-interesting, and that half was in the second part of the show. (I'll have a full review of her and of Rosie O'Donnell in tomorrow's Beacon Journal.)

I wonder how long before she feels she has demonstrated enough serious credentials to the audience that she can be herself more; in that interview with Thomas Friedman, she looked especially formal. And as long as she has to introduce and explain ''new'' features, the telecast is not going to find its own rhythm.

But there was one odd thing, at least for me, in the newscast. I am well aware that some viewers were scrutinizing every inch of Couric footage, including her wardrobe, for signs that she has thrown the news in that old handbasket to hell. And that the hyping of a look at the Suri Cruise cover of Vanity Fair would probably be seen as handbasket-worthy.

But I was preparing to defend that choice, because I have seen old newscasts going back to the late 1940s, when they ran just 15 minutes and still tried to balance the heavy news with lighter material. In my book, ''Television's Greatest Year: 1954,'' I wrote:

''Those who believe that television news fell into feature fuzziness only in recent years should be aware that this 1949 (CBS News) telecast included a New York bank that had installed a baby-carriage ramp and still photos of nineteen-week-old Prince Charles of England. ('This is my favorite,' (anchor Douglas) Edwards said of one.)''

So I went slack-jawed when Couric led into the Suri shot with that same piece of Edwards and Prince Charles.

I am not, not, not saying that Couric read my book. After all, almost no one did. (You can find used copies for sale on starting at -- sigh -- eight cents apiece.) It's just an easily found program. When I was researching my book at New York's Museum of Television & Radio, that was one of the standard examples of early TV newscasts at the museum.

But a smart move by Couric's newscast, even if it deprived me of a chance to show off in tomorrow's column.

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