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. “I don’t think there’s anybody better to take us through the news of the day, ” 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.
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.”