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CBS giving more air time to Couric

Tue., Jan. 27, 2009

Hoping to create more buzz for her third-place newscast, CBS is handing anchor Katie Couric some key prime-time real estate in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday, the network will air a special edition of “CBS Evening News” at 8 p.m., hoping to catch the attention of viewers who have not sampled the broadcast before.

A week later, on Feb. 4, Couric will anchor an hourlong Grammy special, featuring interviews with Justin Timberlake, Lil’ Wayne, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. CBS broadcasts the Grammy Awards on Feb. 8.

And Couric has landed the first interview with the pilot who safely brought his distressed plane down in the Hudson River – a coup that comes at the expense of her former “Today” show partner Matt Lauer.

The interview with Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his crew will be shown Feb. 8 on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” before the Grammys telecast.

NBC’s Lauer had been promised the first interview live on Jan. 19. But the day before, Sullenberger’s pilots association asked him to postpone interviews while the investigation into U.S. Airways Flight 1549 and its water landing continued.

Sullenberger was praised as a hero for a deft landing on Jan. 15, after both of the plane’s engines were disabled following a collision with a flock of birds. All 155 passengers and crew members were rescued.

Despite the postponement, NBC’s “Today” said it had a continued commitment with Sullenberger’s family and media adviser to have the first interview.

“What Captain Sullenberger did in the cockpit on Flight 1549 was heroic and admirable,” said NBC News spokeswoman Megan Kopf. “Unfortunately, people close to him have not acted nearly as admirably over the past few days.

“They gave us their word, and then broke their commitment. We wish Captain Sullenberger the best.”

The Sullenbergers’ media adviser, Alex Clemens of the communications firm Barbary Coast Consulting, confirmed the “60 Minutes” interview but said he would have no other comment.

The news continues a good run for Couric, who’s halfway through her five-year contract with CBS.

She received praise last fall for her Sarah Palin interview and, more than two years after leaving NBC to become the “CBS Evening News” anchor, is seeing her ratings go up – though she still lags far behind her competitors at NBC and ABC.

In a recent interview, CBS News President Sean McManus said he was convinced that if more people see the kind of work Couric is doing, they will be persuaded to tune in to her evening newscast.

“The main priority is to broaden the exposure of the CBS Evening News for people because one of the things I’ve learned is that the more people that have an opportunity to see it, the more people seem to say, ‘Darn good broadcast,’ ” McManus said.

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