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TCA 2012: Katie Couric Starts Again, Again

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Seven years ago, the TV business was abuzz over Katie Couric‘s reinvention of herself as a CBS news anchor, having spent years as the host of NBC’s Today Show. This year, she was back at the Television Critics Association press tour to talk about her re-reinvention of herself, now as a daytime talk show host, whose show, Katie, starts this fall. (The show is something of a comeback attempt to for fallen NBC president Jeff Zucker, once her producer on Today and now her producer on Katie.)

Couric came on stage to the tune of her show’s new theme song, “This Day,” by Sheryl Crow, which seems about as apt a pairing of composer and subject as can be: kinda upbeat, kinda easy listening, not 100% mindless but about as edgy as a polished marble. Couric said this was the first unveiling of the song, which Crow wrote after Couric talked to her about the show’s themes.

Those themes being? Couric borrowed a line that, she said, came from her marketing department: “Smart with Heart.” That is: lots of emotion and personal connection, worthy topics treated with a smile, role models and inspiration. Among the regular segments, she said, would be “Women Who Should Be Famous” and “YOLO” (You Only Live Once, as today’s young people say), an updated take on the “bucket list” concept. (Someone asked what items would be on Couric’s bucket list: “I’d like to go out with George Clooney if you can arrange that.”)

The idea, it seems, is to position Couric as a successor to the Be a Better You market that Oprah served, to do an entertainment show that’s not entirely empty-calorie. In her promo reel, she said that she’s interested in interviewing celebrities not because they’re famous, but because they’re talented and have something to say.

Can she succeed in the daytime biz without booking a Kardashian? Seven years ago, the talk was about whether Couric had enough gravitas to be an evening news anchor, It would be ironic if the question now is whether she has too much gravitas–or, at least, earnestness of purpose–for daytime. But the concept of the show, at least, seems to fit the brand she established at Today, where she was known to take on service topics and connect with them personally (having lost a husband to cancer, for instance, she did considerable work on cancer awareness).

It’s all well and good to talk about doing a positive daytime show, of course, but the proof will be in how Couric executes the idea–whether her strengths (interviewing, disarming humor) can get daytime viewers to embrace the show. Also, daytime talk is full of examples of hosts who came out with promises to uplift talk and cover worthwhile subjects, only to change course when the ratings dropped—even Oprah Winfrey’s show went through many reinventions, some of them more high-minded and earnest than others.

But if nothing else, having worked in morning and evening news, it makes sense that she would try to fuse the two parts of her career in the middle of the day. (Speaking of her evening-news record, she says she’s extended an invitation on the new show to Sarah Palin. No answer yet.) Many high-profile shows have tried to crack this genre since Oprah. But you know what the kids say: YOLO.