Katie Couric: Falling Out of Favor at ABC News, Syndie Talker

Key ABC O&Os said to be planning local newscasts to replace daytime show next fall

Katie Couric ABC News Talk Show

The syndication biz wrote off Katie Couric’s Disney-distributed daytime talkshow strip even before it finished its first season this past spring.

Now the one-time morning show superstar is also heading for the exit at ABC News, negotiating an early end to the “special correspondent” deal that accompanied her talkshow pact in 2011. Couric is poised to shift to a programming deal with Yahoo, which will keep her visible in media circles but nonetheless marks a remarkable fall from grace for the anchor who was once at the top of the TV journo pack. She joined the Disney-ABC fold in mid-2011 after a tumultuous tenure as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”

The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news of Couric’s negotiations with Yahoo on Friday. ABC News insiders tried to put the best face on the transition, but it is no secret that Couric had a tough time finding room in an operation that has limited airtime and two formidable femme stars in Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters.

Meanwhile, on her Monday-Friday topical talker, weak ratings, a revolving door of producers, reports of testy behavior on the set and a general unwillingness to embrace daytime TV conventions (even for high-brow “Oprah”-esque talkers) led station managers to conclude that Couric wasn’t a fit with the job.

There’s been speculation in recent weeks that Couric might not complete her second season of the talker now that it’s become clear her station affiliates, including the core ABC O&O group, are hunting for replacement shows starting in fall 2014. Disney reps, however, have tamped down that speculation. If nothing else, Couric’s hefty eight-figure paycheck is incentive for her to complete the two-year term of her daytime show contract.

The coin Couric commands has been a sore spot for station managers given the perception that she was balking at making her show less newsy and more daytime-friendly. The ABC O&Os in top markets such as Gotham, L.A. and Chicago in particular took a ratings hit by putting the show on in optimum late afternoon news lead-in time periods, meaning that “Katie’s” low-ratings also handicapped the newscasts.

Disney-ABC brass had high hopes that Couric could fill the void of Oprah Winfrey’s retirement from daytime syndie talk. Winfrey’s powerhouse talker helped keep the ABC O&O stations mighty in daytime and early fringe for more than two decades.

Winfrey’s retirement, followed a year later by Couric’s arrival, coincided with ABC’s strategic decision to cancel the network’s long-running soap operas “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” ABC O&O and affiliate stations in many markets have been walloped by the disruptions, which also undoubtedly fueled the anti-Couric sentiment.

At present, industry sources say ABC’s major-market O&Os are likely to replace Couric with additional local newscasts. That’s a cost-effective move, as the infrastructure is already in place, and also a pragmatic one in that there’s little else on the syndie horizon that would be a fit for the group.

Disney-ABC’s two-year commitment to Couric prevented the ABC O&Os from making a play earlier this year for Ellen DeGeneres daytime yakker when rights to the Warner Bros.-distribbed show came on the auction block — another source of frustration for the O&O group. Had the ABC-owned stations bid for “Ellen,” all of the other “Katie” affiliates would have balked at keeping the show in top time periods.

Reps for ABC News declined comment; Yahoo could not immediately be reached for comment.