What Katie Couric Should Do Next–First of All, She Should NOT Do a Daytime Talk Show, and Here’s Why

Apr 5, 2011

Let me ask you something. Is Katie Couric more in the mold of Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Meredith Vieira or Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell and Regis Philbin?

Clearly it’s the first trio.

So I believe that Couric would have a tough time making it as a daytime talk show host. There’s a certain lightness, a palatable joie de vive, a wink and a nod between audience and host that marks the best and most successful daytime talk show hosts. Oprah has gotten more serious-minded over the years, but she’s unmistakably got it as well.

It’s part of the Fred Astaire factor. It’s a silky smoothness in what one does that simultaneously gives one respectability and a connectivity to an audience that leads to popularity.

Couric actually has this factor as well, but it’s in the same sense that the women in the first trio I mention above have it.

So it seems clear to me what Couric should do after her contract to anchor CBS News’ flagship evening newscast ends in June.

One excellent choice for her would be a return to the “Today” show. It’s a milieu in which she shines. Reportedly, Vieira’s contract ends in September. “Been there, done that,” you say? I say “Fiddlesticks!” or, better yet, “Mugwump!”

A mugwump is what some of the supporters of Grover Cleveland were called. And Cleveland was the only president to serve a term as President of the United States, then, in a notoriously bad move, go to CBS to anchor its evening news telegraphcast, before becoming President of the United States again, four years later.

OK, I confess I don’t have a clue what Cleveland did in between his two non-consecutive terms as U.S. president, but the point is that "been there done that" is the position of trolls and not those with tigeress blood.

Lauer and Couric, together again. It’s worth watching and millions will. And, economically, it’ll be worth it to Comcast to pay Couric millions to once again wake up way too early.

Another organization to whom it would be well worth it to pay Couric millions is the CNN division of Time Warner.

The place is a mess and she’d be a good complement to Anderson Cooper. For one, she could replace the stultifyingly stupor-inducing Piers Morgan. Couric is one of the best interviewers around; Piers, er, um, less so.

In a forthcoming New York Times magazine piece that’s already been published online, Couric says that if she does a daytime talk show it would be known for “smart conversation.”

Oy yoy yoy. Another indication that Couric should stay out of the daytime talk show arena. Daytime talk shows are about silly talk, fun talk, exploitative talk, feel-good talk and in-your-face-Jerry-Springer-talk-show-type-talk. They are not about “smart conversation.”

Smart conversation is what one finds on ABC’s “The View,” and another possibility for Couric would be to host a show similar to that compelling and entertaining program. CNN could use a good one. So could NBC. And if Barbara Walters wants to take more time off or leave the original version entirely, Couric would be a great fit to replace her.

We close with some great responses Couric gave in her interview in the New York Times magazine:

Andrew Goldman of The New York Times: At your first job at CNN, the head of the network, Reese Schonfeld, famously said you just didn’t possess the gravitas to be in TV news.

Couric: Which I think is Latin for ‘testicles’ by the way. But to give this some perspective: I was 23 years old.

NY Times: For the 15 years you co-hosted “Today,” no one seemed capable of writing about you without using one particular descriptor. Tell me about your current relationship with the word ‘perky.’

Couric It used to bother me because I thought there was a sexist undertone to that word. It meant shallow and cute, but not somebody who had any depth. It did become a pejorative word, but listen, it’s better than ‘bitchy.’ #

8 Comments

  1. I don’t think it makes any difference. Katie would make a fine game show host or even a sub for Jeff Probst on “Survivor.” The one thing she shouldn’t do is anchor a network newscast.

  2. Replacing Piers Morgan is the best idea. If it is available she should take it. She is perfect for that role. She can show gravitas when necessary, but can also be light when appropriate. Piers has no gravitas and his light is more smarmy.

  3. Chuck, I respectfully disagree. You’re underestimating the sense of fun Katie brought to TODAY. She even managed to warm up the previously-glum Bryant Gumbel.
    And let’s not forget her executive producer will be Jeff Zucker –a truly terrific producer who knows just how to build a show around Katie’s strengths.
    As a viewer I’d love to see her return to TODAY, but if anyone can succeed Oprah in the current fragmented TV world, it’s Katie.

  4. Hi Arthur. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
    I actually agree that Couric has a marvelous sense of fun and a good sense of humor.
    I also agree that Zucker proved himself to be a tremendous producer while at the “Today” show and that he knew how to use Couric to her best advantage.
    These factors helped make Couric the success she was when she was on the “Today” show.
    But I don’t think that these elements necessarily add up to predict that someone will be a successful daytime talk show host.
    The history of first-run syndication in the daytime talk show arena is replete with talented people of good humor and warmth who have had good producers who have not been successful.
    I would point to such examples as Jane Pauley–who herself was a big success on “Today”; Megan Mullally and Bonnie Hunt, to name just three from the not too distant past.

    Chuck Ross
  5. I agree with Chuck, I feel that both Katie and Jeff are on the wrong side of the upside of Day-time tv. Everything about Katie is great in theory, but not in practice. I don’t feel that her show would be a good investment in both, the long, and short run.

  6. There’s another reason that network TV is a good home for Katie. Unless you get the right launch group in syndication, you run the risk of ending up with a hodge podge of weak affiliates, independents, and castaways you fate is in large part determined by the station’s your associated with.
    Oprah wouldn’t have been as successful without the ABC O&O’s. Dr.Phil had a good set of stations. Oz a lesser bunch and Nate…well you can see where I’m going.
    I agree with Chuck’s assessment here. Today Show, with all of the change going on, would be a great base to return to. Talent drives television, and Katie is the right fit for one of the strongest franchises in morning TV. She’s a known pro, requiring no promotion to build her awareness, and she’s a proven, riskless, commodity. If the Today Show is in fact bringing in several hundred million dollars (like the Oprah Winfrey Show does in early fringe) then paying Katie $10-15M is a no brainer. It’s a wise investment in protecting the franchise.
    Katie should stay with quality and not venture into the syndication arena that forces one into a more salacious programming bent to survive. The Today Show gives her the ability to be an “impact player” getting a solid rating vs. an also ran in syndication getting a 1.5 rating.
    Negotiate those things you need Katie to maintain your integrity, income and independence. But stick with what you know!

  7. Looks like re-pairing with Lauer is moot now, but Couric has issues with the word “smart” and clearly overcompensates to reinvent the persona that made her famous. Her interview of Palin told us more about the interviewer than the candidate. A daytime talkshow host who thinks being smart and well-read is important to the masses is definitely out-of-touch. Anyone who adopts the smartest-in-the-room persona (are you listening, Obama?) is not likely to stay popular when familiarity starts breeding.

  8. Two words: Jane Pauley.

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