NEW YORK — "What's good is: people are interested. What's bad is: people are TOO interested, sometimes."
Katie Couric is grinning as she says this, but she isn't kidding. And she has a point.
The fact that she's just launched a new daytime talk show has escaped almost no one's notice, and Couric has done her best to bring her show to everyone's attention, having thrown herself into a publicity blitz for weeks.
But there's more than pre-show promotion driving the interest in "Katie." As one of TV's best-known, relatable and highly regarded personalities, whatever Couric does is subject to scrutiny and sky-high expectations at a level that eclipses fellow freshman talk-show hosts (including Steve Harvey, who premiered this week, plus Jeff Probst and rookie returnee Ricki Lake, both kicking off the same day as Couric).
Any of the new talk shows may catch fire with viewers. But as zero hour approaches, interest in the rest of them is nowhere close to that for "Katie."
Couric is in a spotlight arguably as bright as she has ever known, maybe as searing as when she left NBC's "Today" in 2006 after 15 years of ratings domination to claim the anchor desk of "The CBS Evening News." During that five-year reign, for the first time, she proved fallible. Nothing she did could reconfigure the job to her particular strengths, as everyone, watching her with interest, came to realize.
A year ago, she signed on with Disney/ABC, which is syndicating "Katie" and employs her as an ABC News special correspondent. In the latter role, she expects to contribute on an "as-needed basis," she says. "I may be involved on election night in some capacity, and there may be some specials they want me to do." She also may fill in for "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts, on medical leave.
But "Katie," she declares, is "my No. 1 priority, and it's going to take a lot of time, attention and energy."
With a healthy dose of time, attention and energy, can Couric transfer her America's-sweetheart appeal (as demonstrated by her stardom on "Today") to the daytime-talk world, without shortchanging the ideals she espoused at the "CBS Evening News"? Can she satisfy her serious side and her playful side, too?
"A daytime format seemed to be the best fit for my skill set," says Couric, 55, relaxing on the couch in her office for an interview. "I like interacting with people. I like conversation. I like spontaneity. There are very few places on TV where you can have all that.
"The notion of a startup was exciting," she goes on. "Having worked at networks with infrastructures and bureaucracies, I feel liberated that I don't have people on top of me saying, 'No, you can't' or 'This isn't the way we've always done things.'"
One more plus: This new venture reunites her with Jeff Zucker, in recent years a top executive at NBC Universal but, before that, her executive producer at "Today."
"That was exciting to me," she says. "We're very simpatico. We have very similar tastes. It's kind of uncanny."
But what kind of show will their collaborative tastes produce? It's a question she's been asked and asked and asked.
"What we're trying to do is take issues that are in the zeitgeist and affect people's lives, and dig a little deeper to give people some perspective," Couric sums up. Her show will typically air right after taping, "and I want to make it as timely as possible, even though we may be dealing with evergreen issues.
"There's always an intelligent way to talk about even light subjects," she adds for good measure.
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