Katie Couric makes move to ABC for talk show
NEW YORK (AP) — Katie Couric has worked in morning television, the evening news and now — thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey — will try out a daytime talk show.
Winfrey’s exit from the market she dominated for much of the last two decades is providing Couric with an opening. The former “CBS Evening News” anchor and “Today” show host and ABC announced their long-anticipated deal on Monday, setting September 2012 for the premiere of Couric’s new show.
“Oprah leaving made it seem like it was feasible,” Couric said. “because to go up against Oprah would be pretty terrifying. I don’t think anybody could really do that.”
Couric will have a part ownership stake in her new talk show, which reunites her with Jeff Zucker. The former NBC Universal chief, who was in the control room during many of Couric’s years at the “Today” show, will be executive producer of the talk show, which doesn’t have a name yet. It will be based in New York.
Giving the show a head start, ABC also announced that eight ABC-owned stations covering nearly one-quarter of the nation’s population — including stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — have agreed to air it in the 3 p.m. weekday time slot.
“I don’t think there’s anybody better to take us through the news of the day, what’s in the zeitgeist,” said Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney/ABC Television Group. “Certainly Katie and Jeff have shown us that they know how to take hold of that.”
Couric will also have a role as a utility player at ABC News. She’ll conduct interviews, participate in special events coverage and even appear on shows such as “Good Morning America,” ”World News” and “Nightline.”
The Couric announcement came on the same day her successor at the “CBS Evening News,” Scott Pelley, was to make his debut as anchor.
Couric will enter a high-risk, high-reward world in daytime television. Only about one of every 10 new syndicated shows that come on the market succeed, said Bill Carroll, an expert in the area for Katz Media. Jane Pauley, one of Couric’s predecessors on the “Today” show, was among those who tried and failed.
Try and succeed, and the riches are great. Syndicated talk shows can tap into licensing fees paid by stations that show them, as well as a cut of advertising revenue.
“The rewards can be unbelievable — look at the empire Oprah Winfrey created,” Carroll said.
A talk show in today’s market is generally news oriented, celebrity focused such as “Ellen” or informational such as medical, relationship or cooking shows. Winfrey’s show was the only one to successfully blend all three in recent years, and in the ratings she towered over all competitors.
Although her show is just in the development stages, Couric indicated that she was looking for a similar combination, albeit with more of a news edge.
“People are multidimensional and I think the show will be multidimensional,” she said. “I think there will be elements of ‘Oprah,’ there will be elements of the ‘Today’ show when Jeff and I were on the ‘Today’ show together. We want it to be compelling television. We want to be really respectful of our audience.”
She said she’d be interested in doing a show that talks about what life is like for a soldier in Afghanistan, an episode that delivers medical information or an interview with an artist such as Lady Gaga.
Starting a new show involves risks, she said. But Couric believes the format allows for more spontaneity and less structure than what she’d been working on with the “CBS Evening News” the past five years.
“Everything has its risks,” she said. “For me, the most important thing is to follow my passion and to consider what’s in my wheel house, what I like to do.”
Her show’s direction will be watched closely to see if it can emulate the breadth of Winfrey’s show or simply occupy a niche that people want to see, Carroll said.
“It can’t always be the show you want to do,” he said. “It has to be the show they want to see.”
The scrambling to claim Winfrey’s audience has already begun, and sometimes the tactics are tough. Dr. Mehmet Oz traveled to Chicago for a blessing — taping a short ad where Winfrey encouraged people to watch her former protege’s show. The people at “Judge Judy” are already claiming their star is the new “queen of daytime.” Oz has moved into Winfrey’s coveted 4 p.m. time slot at some stations, but ABC in markets such as New York and Philadelphia are already airing local news where Winfrey once appeared.
With a year’s wait, Couric could find herself left out when Winfrey’s audience disperses. Anderson Cooper and British talk show host Jeremy Kyle are launching their own shows this fall. Ricki Lake returns to the talk show world next year.
But if no one show gets the bulk of viewers, Couric could find an audience hungry to embrace someone familiar.
ABC once seemed like a long shot to win the Couric sweepstakes. She considered going home to NBC, but those talks never really got off the ground and some at NBC were annoyed by published rumors about the possibility of Couric and “Today” host Matt Lauer teaming up for a talk show. CBS was once thought to have the inside track, despite Couric leaving the anchor chair, but doubts grew about what her role would be at CBS News when the talk show started.
She will join a formidable team at ABC News, particularly at the competitive art of securing tough interview, with Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Christiane Amanpour.
It’s also a return home, in a sense: Couric began her career as a desk assistant at ABC News in 1979.
“On a personal note, I’ve known Katie for 14 years, and even with all of her success, I’m confident that her best days, biggest scoops and most powerful journalism lie directly ahead,” said ABC News President Ben Sherwood, who competed with Couric every day when he produced “Good Morning America.”