Some TV personalities do one thing well. Katie Couric — in keeping with the varied demands of her signature “Today” stint — is a chameleon. Three days into her new syndicated show “Katie,” it’s clear she’s in a mode more akin to an unauthorized fifth hour of “Today” than “The CBS Evening News,” solicitously approaching guests like the audience’s surrogate gal pal. Oprah, she’s not — the host often appears to try too hard being chummy — but given Disney’s backing and the compatibility with afternoon local news, this gig could stick longer than her last one.
Some initial reviews of Couric’s show were hopelessly naïve, or at least seemingly unaware of daytime’s modest ambitions. After viewing three shows — two focused on celebrities, a third with a human-interest hook — “Katie” aspires to little more than approximating the appeal of US Weekly or People. If Couric interviewed Sarah Palin in this setting, she’d focus on how she manages to look so great while being a working mom.
Thus far, Couric (and fellow exec producer Jeff Zucker) seem inordinately willing to allow guests to shill for products, most conspicuously during Jessica Simpson’s chat. Dwelling on Simpson’s weight-loss efforts wasn’t nearly as objectionable as allowing the singer to cite Weight Watchers so many times a drinking-game version could easily have resulted in alcohol poisoning.
All three primary interviews have felt flabby (too bad Weight Watchers can’t help with that) in consuming most of the hour, but that’s pretty standard for the genre.
The bigger concern is the celeb conversations were banal and puffy — in supermodel Heidi Klum’s case, after a few obligatory questions about her divorce.
Mostly, Couric seems exceptionally eager to please, perhaps too much so. Not only does she have the gig, but after her sweet CBS deal she doesn’t really need it. Similarly, efforts to present a softer side and humanize her ought to be more organic and less forced.
Couric maintains an affiliation with ABC News, but for better or worse — and despite her suggestion the show would be able to pounce on breaking news — this new role will define her, operating in a syndication marketplace greatly diminished from its heyday.
After a respectable bid to become the female Walter Cronkite, Couric thus settles for being not the next Oprah (those days are over) but something closer to a better-dressed Sally Jessy Raphael. And on the plus side, her show looks terrific compared to “The Jeff Probst Show,” whose continuous message seems to come down to the song title, “Live like you were dyin’.”
Talk shows are nice work if you can get it, and potentially wildly lucrative. So far, though, Couric’s opening-show, was-it-all-a-dream sketch with Matt Lauer notwithstanding, probably not the stuff her dreams were made of.