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Couric rumored to be seeking early exit from CBS News, but both are sorta saying otherwise

The Wall Street Journal reports that CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric "is likely" to leave that post well before her contract expires in 2011 and possibly soon after the next presidential inauguration in January.

But CBS and Couric have both issued statements (included in the Journal's story) that say they're happy together without emphatically denying any planned breakup.

The Journal piece also says that Couric might be in line to replace Larry King on CNN after his contract expires next year.

As has been exhaustively reported, Couric's $15 million a year salary has not paid off in higher ratings for the Evening News, which badly trails both the NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News.

Frankly, the perfect replacement for Couric would be former WFAA8 reporter Scott Pelley, who was rumored to be on the short list of Dan Rather's possible successors. Bob Schieffer instead got the job and ably led the Evening News to a mini ratings resurgence while also re-steadying the ship. But he didn't want to anchor long-term, and CBS chairman Leslie Moonves already had settled on Couric as a star player who could youthify the Evening News while also significantly altering its presentation.

Both assumptions have been proven almost disastrously wrong. Pelley, 50, is well-seasoned at this point, and has both the on-air presence and reporting skills to succeed where Couric's failed. Besides that, his hair is notably grayer than either Brian Williams' or Charles Gibson's.

The latest wave of corporate-mandated staff reductions at CBS' owned-and-operated stations (including CBS11 in D-FW) make it highly unlikely the network would seek to reel in another high-priced big fish from outside the company. This makes Pelley a cost-efficient and sound choice in times when CBS News also reportedly is considering an "outsourcing" partnership with CNN.