After a stint on the nightly news, the former ''Today'' show host is ready to reinvent herself yet again, this time as the host of an afternoon chatfest. EW was on set as she prepped for the premiere.
On a recent sunny afternoon, Katie Couric stands on the set of her new talk show, Katie, and surveys the scene. The distance between Couric and the 144 audience seats on the set is remarkably close — ”She joked the other day that she’s got to remember to shave her legs,” says coexecutive producer Michael Bass — which gives the soundstage a feeling of casual coziness. Couric, 55, looking slim, tan, and relaxed, smiles at the crowd. It’s only the fourth test show of Katie (which debuts Sept. 10 in national syndication), though you wouldn’t know it. An awful lot is packed into the hour — this particular one revolves around eating disorders — and yet all appears to run smoothly. Segments include a heartfelt chat with pop star (and new X Factor judge) Demi Lovato; a woman who, in her 50s, almost died of anorexia; a specialist from the UNC Eating Disorders Program; a teenager and a mother who both struggle with food issues; and finally a performance of Lovato’s new song ”Give Your Heart a Break.” Couric’s only display of nerves comes toward the end, as the Today show host-turned-CBS Evening News anchor prepares to introduce Lovato’s musical number. ”I’m still not used to this,” she says to the people seated below her as she waits for a camera to be ready. ”I feel like I should be juggling for you or something.”
Couric, who left CBS Evening News in 2011 after almost five years, says the one-hour format of a talk show appealed to her desire to explore a topic thoroughly. ”On television it’s sometimes hard to find an outlet where you could roll up your sleeves,” she says. After she reteamed with exec producer Jeff Zucker — a Couric pal dating back to the Today show — Katie was born (see katiecouric.com for show times). ”I look at Katie and Jeff like Fred and Ginger,” says Bass. ”They’re incredibly talented on their own, and when you put them together, you have something really special.”
Interviewing has always been Couric’s greatest skill, thanks to her empathy and uncanny ability to draw out her subjects. (Sarah Palin may beg to differ!) But on Katie, she’ll also be opening up more about her own life. During the test taping, for example, she casually disclosed that she’d dealt with an eating disorder in college. Says Bass, ”The more she allows the audience into her life, the more they’ll relate to her.”
So what else should viewers expect? ”Some days are going to be very fun and light, and other days are going to be more serious,” says Couric. ”A show on hair would be one [day], and the next day it would be Hillary Clinton talking about being secretary of state, and then the next day Jennifer Lopez talking about her career and her life. We know this isn’t PBS in the afternoon…. We want it to be accessibly intelligent.” If that sounds like another one-named talk-show wonder, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. As Bass notes, ”There’s been a void left by Oprah. Nobody is trying to be Oprah or duplicate what she did, but she is an inspiration.”