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Sorry, Katie, Larry King's staying

Katiecries_3 Her ratings tumbling lower than ever, trading threats and counterthreats with CBS executives in the New York papers, Katie Couric certainly doesn't seem destined to stay in the network's anchor chair much longer. But one popular scenario -- Couric moving to CNN to take over Larry King's show -- was apparently ruled out Tuesday when King signed a new contract that will keep him on the air until at least 2011.

The excruciatingly public war-by-leak between Couric and her CBS bosses over the past two weeks (We're getting rid of her after the election! No, I'm quitting before the election!) has fascinated and appalled TV news executives at other networks. When I visited New York and Washington last week on a reporting trip, it was all anybody wanted to talk about. "If I were in charge over there," one senior executive told me, "the first thing I would do would be to get everybody together in one room, put my arms around their shoulders, and TELL THEM TO SHUT THE BLEEP UP!"

Like nearly everybody else I talked to, he said the public recriminations have damaged both Couric and the network, giving her the appearance of a lame duck and making the network look like it's got another loose Dan-Rather-style cannon on its deck. No wonder the CBS Evening News ratings hit an all-time low last week, with an average of less than 5.4 million viewers tuning in each night.

The Couric-for-King swap was a nonsensical scenario from the start. For one thing, King's show has the best ratings in CNN's lineup, so that's not where the network wants to tinker. For another, King has long made it clear that the only way he's leaving his microphone is in a pine box. Even somebody as PR-tone-deaf as Couric can see what a disaster it would be for her to shove CNN's most beloved personality out the door before he's ready to go.

Couric might still wind up at CNN, though, provided she's not too attached to that $15 million a year or whatever she's making at CBS -- a paycheck that size would melt every computer in CNN's accounting department. But look for her to host a different show -- maybe a newsy afternoon talk show where she can move back toward the Today Show Katie that viewers loved so much.

Bobscheiffer_3 It seems unlikely to me that this will really happen before the election. No network news chief in his right mind wants to be retooling his evening broadcast during the middle of what's expected to be a hard-fought and exciting campaign. But if too much blood has been shed for Couric to stick around, CBS does have somebody in-house who not only could add some political heft to the Evening News but is a proven winner with viewers. Does the name Bob Scheiffer ring a bell?


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