Katie Couric tries out the daytime talk show circuit starting today, amid some buzz that she could be the host who fills the void left by Oprah Winfrey's departure.
That could be a tough order, though: Couric is just part of a long parade of hopefuls who are joining "Dr. Oz," "Dr. Phil," Ellen Degeneres, Anderson Cooper, Wendy Williams, Maury Povich, Jerry Springer and the rest of TV's already-crowded dayside gang.
As of today, you can add "Katie" to the list, as well as Steve Harvey, the comedian and sitcom star. Ricki Lake, who was only 24 when she first broke into the talk show business in the 1990s, is vying to make a comeback at the age of 43. And the list of daytime-talk hopefuls goes on, including former "Survivor" host Jeff Probst, and British import Trisha Goddard. She will be refereeing a Maury Povich-style conflict show.
There are more big syndicated talk shows being launched this fall than in the last decade, says Alex Ben Block, senior editor at The Hollywood Reporter. The costliest splash, however, is focused on Couric, the ex-host of NBC's "Today" show and former anchor of the "CBS Evening News." Block says ABC is pulling out all the stops, giving her a solid time period, strong promotion and an expensive production budget. "Now," he says, "she has to deliver." That means the pressure is on to capture the lion's share of the kind of household decision-makers advertisers covet: 25- to 54-year-old women, over whom Oprah Winfrey once reigned supreme.
Competition in the daytime talk-show arena is more ferocious than ever, according to Block. "If even two out of the five or six (shows) that are launching can be here three years from now, that would be extraordinary," he adds.
Couric struggled to live up to expectations when she took over as the lead anchor at CBS, and the bar might be set at an unrealistic level again, says Alec Shankman, head of alternative programming at Hollywood's Kaplan-Stahler Agency. "If you raise everyone's expectations too high," he explains, "you only have room left for disappointment." That's especially true in a market that's increasingly fragmented by cable-TV and the Internet. Block is even more blunt, noting that "even Oprah could no longer get an Oprah-sized audience."
Couric appeared in a YouTube video pitching show tickets, and let it be known that she won't be doing things the Oprah way -- at least not for now. "You can be part of the studio audience," she says in the clip. Then, in a not-so-veiled a reference to Winfrey's legendary giveaways, she adds, "but don't expect to get any free cars just yet."