Katie Couric and Jeff Probst both launched their syndicated talkshows on Monday, becoming the latest well-known talents to risk the indignation of washing out in the afternoons.
Distributed by CBS' syndication wing, "The Jeff Probst Show" is the lower profile of the two, but in its approach and execution, also the more jaw-dropping. Somehow, the "Survivor" host has elevated himself to the role of New Age guru, tossing off catchphrases like "Say yes" (to life, that is) and "I'm all in."
According to Probst, each show will open with three related stories, before lighter segments, like the one where guys give women advice on how men think.
On Monday, the stories included a 31-year-old woman with a fatal cancer diagnosis; an eight-year-old girl raising money for charity; and a 90-something couple, interviewed via Skype, who met and fell in love in a nursing home. Loosely put, the common denominator — never really spelled out — was "Live like you were dyin'."
Probst's goal, obviously, is to be inspirational, but there's such an arbitrary quality to him assuming this role it's difficult to get past the fact this is all one enormous ego trip. As further evidence, Probst incorporates his wife, talent coordinator Lisa Russell, into the discussion, because she's, um….
OK, he was smart to "Say yes" to "Survivor," but….
"We're going to talk about love a lot on this show," he promised.
Maybe he will, and Probst is good company, TV-wise — attractive, energetic, comfortable being front and center; still, assuming the premiere is any guide of what's to come, if asked to watch another episode, "Say no."
As for "Katie," Couric's bid (a la another former "Today" host, Jane Pauley) to make the leap from news to the syndicated arena began by going out of its way to humanize her — introducing her daughters, her mom, even junior-high-school friends, who were flown in for the occasion but, in a missed opportunity, not allowed to say anything.
After that, the show was essentially a famous person talking to her equally famous friends, albeit with one of the most brazen and obnoxious bouts of in-program promotion ever witnessed.
Couric's first guest, Jessica Simpson, spent most of the interview blathering about her post-baby weight loss thanks to Weight Watchers. That would have been bad enough, but then they brought out her coach for one segment — part of a chat that in its entirety consumed more than half the show. It's rather ironic to note a dieting focus could be so flabby in TV terms.
Couric was better with Sheryl Crow, getting her to talk a little about former boyfriend Lance Armstrong and his blood-doping investigation.
All told, the entire exercise felt like the new fifth hour of the "Today" show, capitalizing on Couric's skills as an interviewer. Clearly, she'll be most comfortable with big newsmakers, though given a finite supply of those, exploring tales of ordinary folks is inevitable.
While the Disney-ABC show will test Couric's personality, she's probably pretty well-equipped to survive, given her solid station lineup and compatibility with early local news. Even so, I can't help but think in hindsight her professional career peaked with that Sarah Palin interview during her stint anchoring the CBS Evening News.
Otherwise, as part of "Today" in its heyday and then CBS' $60-million woman, Katie Couric will always be perhaps best known for making a lot of money for herself and others. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but in the post-"Oprah" age, being a big name in syndication just seems a whole lot smaller.