Morning Stars Rising

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Kurtz

Journalism suffers as TV news seeks salvation in celebrity.

Television news now feasts on fame, the gaudier the better, with journalistic credentials a mere afterthought.

Thus it was that Sarah Palin wound up co-hosting the Today show last week, giving the disastrous VP nominee a chance to poke fun at her know-nothing image while sprinkling some celebrity stardust on Matt Lauer and the gang. Palin seemed out of place, naturally, but showed flashes of on-camera charisma.

The stunt was a finger-in-the-eye response to Good Morning America for using Katie Couric, once the morning-show queen at Today, as a weeklong substitute. The promotional hype didn't thrill the vacationing Robin Roberts, but Couric helped GMA win one of the mornings.

Adding to the intrigue, Lauer chatted up Ryan Seacrest, of American Idol renown, about rumors that the pop-culture sensation might succeed him at the top-rated morning show. But after vacillating over his grinding schedule, Lauer decided he would be crazy to spurn the huge sums NBC was dangling to retain its morning star.

Brand-name hosts are often bigger than the network platforms they occupy. Couric's Today success provided a springboard, after a detour as CBS anchor, for her forthcoming daytime show.

CBS This Morning, launched in January with Charlie Rose and Gayle King, has won good reviews for emphasizing news over tabloid tales. But with 2.5 million viewers, ratings are down 10 percent from last season. (Today is averaging 5.4 million and GMA 4.9 million.)

Journalistic heavyweights once worked the early shift: Tom Brokaw, Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer. …