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Katie Comes to Daytime, Asking the Weighty Questions

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Disney-ABC Domestic Television

Katie Couric, with first guest Jessica Simpson.

In September 2008, Katie Couric did an interview with Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in which the candidate struggled to answer questions about policy and newspapers, an interview that shaped perceptions of Palin, informed a defining Saturday Night Live sketch and–love it or hate it–probably proved more influential than any interview by any evening-news anchor since.

In September 2012, on the premiere of Katie, Couric asked Jessica Simpson how she lost the baby weight.

This is where Couric has come in four years, and to her credit, she has a sense of humor about it. The morning anchor turned evening anchor turned daytime host opened her first show with a taped bit, in which she wakes from a fitful sleep believing her move (or ejection) from CBS to daytime was all a dream. It wasn’t, says Matt Lauer, pulling off a sleeping mask and revealing himself in the single bed next to her.

Reintroducing Katie–I could keep journalistically using “Couric,” but the pursuit of Oprah-esque mononymity is what her reinvention is all about–was a big goal of the first episode. The Lauer bit reminded us of her work and TV history; the single bed underscored a biographical point—Katie the widowed single mom, as she talked about in her introduction to the audience.

The first show was bookended a little like a political convention unveiling a candidate: biography, family and endorsements up front, old friends coming out to share the stage at the end. Couric brought out three old junior high pals, with whom she is apparently on good enough terms to joke about their school photo: “Everybody looks like they smelled something bad but you, Barbara. I’m not suggesting something!” And she laced her comfortable pre-show chat with self-deprecating jokes: on the stage set, which brings her very close to the audience, she said, “I’m going to have to shave my legs more often.” (When second guest Sheryl Crow talked about words people associate with Katie, the host volunteered, “Perky!”)

But the heart of the show is the interviews, pitched to use Katie’s skill at charming people into revelation, and far closer to Today show territory than the evening news. Like, second or third hour of the Today show territory. Her interview with Simpson turned into more or less an infomercial for Weight Watchers, for whom Simpson became a paid spokeswoman after the tabloids roasted her for her mom jeans and postpartum weight.

It was a trademark daytime-TV moment: the story of a Woman Who Is Just Like You, except that she’s not at all. Much of Katie’s audience can identify with trying to shed baby weight, not to mention the body-image pressure placed on women. But when Katie asked Simpson, “How do you focus on losing weight and taking care of your baby, because they’re both very demanding jobs, right?” you had to assume that being paid a zillion dollars to lose the weight probably helps. The balancing act continued when Katie brought out Simpson’s Weight Watchers coach, who, Katie said, “helped me lose a few L-B’s as well. She works with plenty of normal people though. Not that we’re not normal, but…”

But! That’s the line Katie will have to dance on to become the Next Whoever Comes After Oprah. One of Oprah’s strengths as a talk-show host was that she didn’t pretend to be normal. (Are any of us?, she might ask.) She wasn’t just like you. She was similar to you. She had past experiences you could relate to. You could imagine having been her friend once, back when.

Katie may not be as successful as Oprah, but she does, whatever you think of this format, seem immediately comfortable in it, cracking unguarded jokes but also owning her celebrity. When she sat down with Sheryl Crow, who wrote her new theme song, it wasn’t as an admirer or an interrogator. (When Crow suggested that a benign brain tumor she had was caused by a cell phone, rest assured, there was no medical-investigation followup.) She talked to her as one celeb to another.

They even exchanged gifts: shoes for Katie, for Crow’s newborn baby, a onesie that read: “When I talk, I’m talking to… Katie.” Like that baby, Katie’s show, like many new talk shows, will probably look much different a year from now. But it’s the core trick she attempted on her first episode—existing at once on the level of her audience and her guests—that will determine if she will be outfitting that baby in designer Katie swag for years to come.

14 comments
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The Lazy Comic
The Lazy Comic

I'd like to book Katie... Oprah... and some others on a cruise. How can I get tickets for them all to sail on the Titanic?

sodakhic
sodakhic

That's sad, her first guest Jessica Simpson. Boring. I know she wanted to get Palin, now that would have been worth watching.

wandaki
wandaki

I Changed the channel after her debut with Matt Lauer. ML salary is 25mil and Katie salary is 45mil. Haven't  their network learned anything? What a waste of $$$ and not deserving.

Chiku Misra
Chiku Misra

virtually no talk show has succeeded, except maybe around three or so, of all the dozens there have been.  katie's show won't even last a year.

ipfletch
ipfletch

Wow, that's a lotta unexpected bile on display here.  In order:

plk:  She's not a journalist anymore- she's a talk-show host.  Whatever axe you have to grind is pretty much past-tense now.

bob petersen: (sigh)...whatever.

dmf0521:  Not so much, as Limbaugh, et al can attest after continuing to be embraced after repeated hosing up publicly.

Jennybreeze:  My guess is that the soaps cost more money than they bring in anymore; that's the reason they're getting whacked for (overall) cheaper programming. I empathize, though.

Sachi Mohanty
Sachi Mohanty

 .  

One more show where an WOMAN talks to other WOMEN and will be watched by the WOMEN of America?

Well ...

I guess some women can be self-centered.

http://www.explainingindia.blo... 

Twitter: @sachi_bbsr:twitter 

 . 

pb_mama
pb_mama

Wow, what a bunch of haters!  Are you incapable of giving the woman some credit?  She's a ground breaker, and she's reinvented herself now for the 3rd time.  She got Laura Bush to admit she supports a woman's right to choose; she nailed the Palin interview in a way others weren't capable; she's captured audiences across the political spectrum - and she's done it all while raising children in the wake of personal loss when her husband died of cancer.  She turned that loss into worldwide awareness of the need for proper preventative care and cancer screenings.  Geez, people!

I haven't seen the show, and I don't plan to - I don't watch daytime TV at all.  But I do know I stopped watching Today after she left, and have no plans to return to watching it.  Whether you agree with her politics or not, give her some credit for her accomplishments.

sodakhic
sodakhic

Six hours of interview and we saw twenty minutes of edited garbage. Fair and balanced Couric.

Jennybreeze
Jennybreeze

And ABC replaced our soaps - cheesy or not! - for THIS??? Somebody should be fired. Ok so maybe they weren't as hard-hitting as Jessica's Simpson's baby-weight, but at least you had those 7 million daily viewers. 

dmf0521
dmf0521

Well at least this should be the last time we see her on TV isn't it 3 strikes and you're out! 

bob petersen
bob petersen

Another lapdog media journalist turned into a glorified blogger , like plk says below, "with and agenda"

plk
plk

Go home Katie.

plk
plk

Katie is yesterday's news.  She is a journalist with an agenda, and we have way too many of those.  What we need are reporters that will report the news, not slant everything to fit their beliefs.