Network evening news may not have worked out, but Katie Couric is wasting no time making other plans.
Her replacement on the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley, starts tonight, but today, she announced that she's starting a syndicated daytime talk show to be produced by ABC, beginning in the fall of 2012.
There's an interesting perspective change in moving from news to talk: Couric was frequently derided as a lightweight, compared to other evening news anchors, but she has a lot of gravitas, compared to some other talk-show hosts. She became a star, after all, as a host of the Today show, which combines hard news and soft features, and she's always done both. So when she sits at an anchor desk, she does so as someone who once hosted Harry Potter: Behind The Magic. But when she sits on a talk-show set, she does so as someone who has interviewed presidents — and, perhaps most famously, Sarah Palin.
Contrary to the narrative that would dismiss her as "perky" and her newscast as one that failed because she did personality-driven morning-show-ish pieces instead of hard news, some actual tracking data suggests her show did more hard news than its competitors. Her oft-mentioned sunny personality aside, she's spent the last five years doing a news broadcast, and that's the recent history she takes to daytime.
What could Katie Couric potentially bring to a talk show? Well, for one thing, a reputation as a good interviewer, neither a pushover nor a humorless scold, who has that actual news background. Obviously, this is also true of Barbara Walters, but on The View, Walters competes for time with comedians and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Meanwhile, CBS's The Talk is driven by actresses who set out to make a show for and about moms, not a show that springs from the news, particularly.
There's still Ellen DeGeneres — who, again, comes from a comedy background — and there are the self-help shows like Dr. Phil's and The Doctors and so forth. But obviously, an Oprah-shaped hole in the daytime universe has opened, and for those who liked Oprah's show better before it became quite as metaphysical as it ultimately did, the mix of news experience and TV likability might well hit the spot.
It's possible that Couric's show will feature mostly celebrities and cooking segments and everything else daytime viewers are most accustomed to. But she seems to want to use it as an opportunity to present interviews, and there's no reason those interviewers couldn't be news-oriented. There's no reason, for instance, that an interview like the one she did with Palin couldn't be either conducted on or produced as segments for a daytime show, depending on what form it takes.
The number of people who have had unsuccessful daytime talk shows is staggering. It's something everyone thinks they can do that very few people wind up being good at. There's a whole year to wait before the show kicks off, and it's a big gamble to wait that long. But what remains to be seen is whether Couric can leverage her news background in the daytime universe, in a way it turned out to be hard to leverage her daytime background on a newscast.