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Women of substance fill TV anchor roles

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And that's the way it is now.

When Katie Couric debuts tonight as anchor of the "CBS Evening News," she'll have plenty of company on an even bigger story playing out on television screens everywhere. Over the next week, a dizzying amount of change will take place in some of the highest-profile TV anchor jobs, but it all pretty much boils down to one thing:

The mature woman has arrived on-air in a way that's impossible to ignore.

"It's not only a sign of the times, but a sign of the good times," said Pat Mitchell, the Georgia native who recently became president of the Museum of Television and Radio after spending six years at the helm of PBS. "Here we have three women being recognized for the fact that they have deep experience, enormous talent and huge appeal to audiences, rather than it all starting with how young and pretty they are."

And here's the Tale of the TiVo:

At 11 a.m. today, six-time Emmy-winning talk-show host and full-time forceful personality Rosie O'Donnell, 44, becomes the newest co-host on "The View." She's taking over for Meredith Vieira, 52, the former "60 Minutes" correspondent and fellow nonshrinking violet who on Sept. 13 becomes co-anchor of "Today" on NBC.

She's sliding into the chair Couric, 49, gave up to make history as the first woman solo anchor and managing editor of one of the "big three" evening newscasts.

"I brought my passport and birth certificate to prove I'm 52," Vieira joked last spring at the news conference announcing her hiring for a job whose previous two occupants, Couric and Deborah Norville, were 34 and 32, respectively, when they arrived.

But it's more than just an age thing that's going on. Indeed, Ball State University telecommunications professor Robert Papper, who studies TV news, points out that Couric and "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, 47, are both several decades younger than the men they replaced.

Yet Couric brings 27 years of professional journalism experience to her groundbreaking role. And there's a real message being sent in the other hirings that in the past might have gone to less experienced, more acquiescent personalities. (The last new "View" co-host, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, arrived in 2003 as a 26-year-old with little besides "Survivor" on her resume.)

"These women are proven ratings-getters," said Gail Evans, a former CNN executive vice president and author of several best-selling books on women in business. "Baby boomers have always dominated trends, and they may lead us into an era where women on television are judged by their ability and charisma, not their age."

And if any of these big three isn't your personal cup of charisma tea, well, that might almost be beside the point at this seminal media moment.

"More than anything else, people will be talking about women when they talk about television," Mitchell said. "When you add to that Oprah Winfrey and others who have been transforming the landscape, you get something that looks more like the way the world really is." KATIE COURIC

She debuts tonight as the first woman solo anchor on the "CBS Evening News." MEREDITH VIEIRA

The former "60 Minutes" correspondent becomes co-anchor of "Today" on NBC on Sept. 13. ROSIE O'DONNELL

The six-time Emmy-winning talk-show host becomes the newest co-host on "The View" today at 11 a.m.

Copyright 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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