The Observer's Rebecca Dana lays out a compelling argument (observer.com) that those who can pull out the quip on cue are the ones that keep the audiences coming back more than the ones who can project a seriously grave demeanor. She notes that none other than CBS's legend himself, Edward R. Murrow, was known to banter with correspondents. Bob Schieffer, who Couric will unseat, was given kudos for doing a similar back and forth with reporters out in the field.
And just as good chitchat can make a career, bad lobbing of the conversational ball can break one. Mariette Hartley and Rolland Smith both bombed on CBS's morning show in the 1980s, the Observer observes, because they were bad yakkers. Even Connie Chung is singled out for not having the chatter chops. Why did NBC reach out for Meredith Vieira as Couric's replacement? She can talk the talk.
And while the best banter seems spontaneous and utterly natural, there's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure it comes off that way. Some like Steve Friedman, the executive in charge of CBS's "The Early Show," plans stunts that will throw up natural opportunities for anchors to chat off script. (One stunt still in the works is a spouse switcheroo, which would mean Julie Chen's hubbie, CBS President-CEO Leslie Moonves, would take her place for a morning. Now that we would watch.) Then there is the approach of partially planned banter, which gives anchors some talking points to riff off. Of course if you've got two pros, like ABC's "Good Morning America's" Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson, you can just schedule in some water-cooler chat time in the schedule and let them go.