Katie Couric, Sarah Palin, compete in ratings battle on network morning news shows

The Takeaway

In an ongoing battle over network ratings, NBC’s Today show brought in Sarah Palin as a guest-host for its Tuesday morning segment.

That put her up against Katie Courie, the long-time Today anchor who is guest-hosting ABC’s Good Morning America all week.

Back in 2008, the Palin-Couric interview was big news, attracting a large audience of fans and critics of the vice presidential candidate. In one notable exchange, Couric asked Palin what newspapers and magazines she read to understand the world. Palin stumbled and was unable to answer the question, a move which many say damaged her public image.

Four years later, Palin remains popular — perhaps moreso than any of the Republicans running for president this year — and political pundits, including those at Politico cast her appearance as a “naked bid to grab nothing but ratings.”

Today has been the most-watched morning show for 850 consecutive weeks. According to Bill Carter, a media reporter for The New York Times, Good Morning America is trying anything to catch up in the ratings — the latest gambit being to invite Couric onto the show.

“For Good Morning America to win one single week, to break that awful streak, that’s all ABC wants at this point,” Carter said.

There’s a lot at stake for both networks in increasing their ratings.

“The Today show is the biggest money making show in television,” Carter said. “It makes something like $250 million a year in profits. Clearly this is a huge battleground and one that NBC will fight tooth and nail to preserve, which is why you see them reaching out to someone like Sarah Palin today.”

In terms of retaining the most-watched title, Carter said the personalities on the show and the production quality are important, but many viewers make their choice based on a far simpler reasoning.

“There is a level of comfort that people establish with these morning shows,” Carter said. “And how this group functions together at this hour, when you’re waking up, you want to be in that particular party that they’re having (on the show). And it gets momentum, you get to the point where you decide that’s what I watch, that’s the show I’m comfortable with.”

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