NEW YORK – CBS said Thursday it is sending incoming evening-news anchor Katie Couric on a tour of several cities to meet informally with viewers this summer and hear what they're interested in seeing on the news.
One "town hall forum" is set for July 13 in Denver. Another meeting is planned for San Diego; CBS is not identifying other cities because plans are still in the works.
Although CBS rejects the comparison, the idea seems reminiscent of the "listening tour" around New York state embarked upon by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was considering launching her 2000 Senate campaign.
"It's an attempt to hear from regular folks on a whole broad range of things that will help us make decisions on how we can better serve our viewers," said Rome Hartman, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News."
Couric, the former "Today" host named as the first woman sole anchor of a network evening newscast, starts her new job in September.
The meetings will not be filmed and reporters won't be allowed in to cover them, Hartman said. Denver CBS affiliate KCNC-TV, in a news release issued Wednesday, invited people to fill out a questionnaire if they are interested in participating. One hundred people representing a cross section of the community will be invited, the affiliate said.
"People are not performing for us," Hartman said. "This was Katie's idea to have a really honest, informal dialogue."
Couric will also participate in a charity fundraiser in each city she visits. In Denver, it will be a luncheon benefiting the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center Foundation.
Clinton's "listening tour" was ridiculed by many as a tightly staged publicity stunt. But it turned out to be enormously effective, particularly when she went to small towns in upstate New York that rarely saw celebrities. Clinton won election handily.
Couric is also embarking on a campaign of sorts. The "CBS Evening News" has long been in last place behind NBC and ABC in the ratings, and part of her job will be convincing people to give her broadcast a try.
Her forums are separate from other trips Couric is likely to make to visit network affiliates and drum up enthusiasm for her debut. It's a common tactic; NBC recently brought Meredith Vieira to its Washington affiliate in preparation for her "Today" show debut in the fall.
Couric will be conducting forums in a total of six cities, according to the Denver news release, posted Thursday on the tvnewser Web site.