News Articles

Team 'Katie' Outlines Its Battle Plan

Execs talk pre-launch strategy, including Zucker as day-to-day showrunner for first season 1/19/2012 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Katie Couric's new talk show is the highest-profile entry in next year's
crowded talkshow field. The show boasts the best time periods -- afternoons on
strong ABC-owned stations and affiliates -- and the highest license fees in a
market that has become increasingly hard to extract cash.

Come next fall, credit for the show's success or failure will largely rest
on Couric's small shoulders, but the former Today and CBS Evening
News
anchor is getting a good bit of help from her team, including former NBCUniversal
chairman Jeff Zucker, who will executive produce the show, and Janice
Marinelli, president of Disney-ABC Domestic Television, which is handling the
show's distribution and marketing.

The show is sold; what comes next is developing the format and getting the
word out. Both of those processes are in the works.

"We are ramping up ad sales and we are working with Jeff, Katie,
consultants and producers on the content," says Marinelli. "In the
summer, we'll go out to local markets and do radio interviews, newspaper
pieces, all of the standard marketing for a syndicated show. Katie will be
traveling from late spring on -- going out into the marketplace, meeting the
general managers at TV stations and getting everyone excited about the
show."

"We're at the beginning of developing the actual format," says
Zucker. "I think a key to the show is that an honest conversation with
women has been missing from daytime television since Oprah moved on. In a way,
Katie fills that void."

"There are a lot of great shows on in the afternoon: Ellen's your
entertainer, Phil is your therapist, The View is your editorial page,
but there's no best friend in daytime right now. That's the role that Katie can
fill."

If it weren't for timing and circumstances, Katie might not be headed to
daytime this fall. It's not as if Couric and Zucker had never heard the idea
before -- Zucker says he was first pitched doing a daytime talk show back in
1995, when he was still executive producer of Today and Couric was America's
sweetheart. At the time, both were too busy and having too much success to
change course.

But in 2010, both Zucker and Couric were facing crossroads.

"As it became clear that I was going to leave NBC in the wake of the
Comcast deal, I was beginning to think about what I was going to do next,"
says Zucker. "Katie's contract was coming up at CBS and she was beginning
to think about that too. Sometime in early 2011, she decided that an afternoon
talk show was what she wanted to do next, and we discussed the possibility of
doing that together. It really was a confluence of timing."

That timing also included the departure of Oprah Winfrey, who announced in
Nov. 2009 that her show would be ending; she shot her final shows in May 2011.
The proliferation of talk shows in the market right now is at least in part
about chasing that audience, and no show is better positioned to take advantage
of Oprah's departure than Katie.

"We looked at the landscape and saw a hole in the marketplace,"
says Zucker. "Oprah's departure from the afternoon syndicated space left a
pretty sizeable hole that will never be completely filled. We thought that
provided an opportunity."

"We know we can't replace Oprah," says Marinelli. "She's a
once-in-a-lifetime talent that comes along. But we think we can get pretty
close with Katie."

One thing that will be different about Katie right off the bat is
that it will be shot live each weekday from New York City.

"Our company is known for going live, with shows such as Live! With
Kelly
and The View," says Marinelli. "Not everyone can
do live, but Katie has done live television her whole career. The camera goes
on and she doesn't need four or five takes."

"We're not going to do Today in the afternoon, but we are
going to hopefully take advantage of the hole that we think exists in the
afternoon marketplace for honest, elevated conversation," says Zucker.

For at least the first year, Zucker will be handling the show's day-to-day
production duties.

"I was excited at the prospect of returning to produce television. I
never had more fun that when I was producing and in the control room. That's
something I've always longed to return to. I think Katie also longed to return
to a format that best utilized her skills and her skillset, which was being
able to report, interview, have fun and show her personality. I think when she
can do all of that, that's the best use of her talent. You can't go back in
time, but you can make the most of your skillset. I'll be the day-to-day
showrunner, especially for the first year."

Daytime syndication is perhaps the riskiest part of a risky television
business, but Zucker says he and Couric are ready to dive in.

"This is something worth trying," he says. "We're not naïve
enough to think that anything is for sure, that we can take anything for
granted or that just because we show up, it works. You try and put yourself in
a position for success, and then you work hard and hopefully do a good job and
get a little luck."

November