Katie Couric's New Talk Show Deal Likely to Be Announced Monday

Katie Couric and Jeff Zucker
Katie Couric and Jeff Zucker
 Getty Images

Disney/ABC is expected to announce as soon as Monday that Katie Couric will host a new talk show which they will syndicate beginning in September 2012, while also contributing to ABC News programs.

The announcement will confirm widespread speculation in the media since NBC and CBS bowed out of the bidding for Couric’s services after her stint on the CBS Evening News ended last month. It will also come less than two weeks after Oprah Winfrey – the reigning queen of daytime talk – wrapped her talk show after 25 years on ABC stations.

Couric’s deal is expected to give her an ownership stake in her daytime show, which will be executive produced by former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker.

Her role at ABC News will be as part of the team, not necessarily a featured player on any one newscast. And the news division’s financial investment in the Couric deal, say sources, is minimal.

However, this appears to be a major roll of the dice by Disney/ABC, which in recent years has not been particularly active in the high-risk domestic syndication business. While it has long running shows like Live With Regis and Kelly, it has not successfully launched a major show in some time.

The cost to produce a talk show like Couric’s is estimated at over $1 million a week, for a run of about 39 weeks a year. The show would be expected to repeat episodes the rest of the year, which is why it can’t be too heavy on news, and must have feature and entertainment content as well.

It will also cost Disney/ABC millions to sell, launch and market. An estimate of over $25 million is probably conservative, and even with Couric, it is not guaranteed to succeed.

"It’s no slam-dunk she’s going to be a success,” says Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. “You cannot expect her despite her fame or recognition to automatically succeed. Jane Pauley tried a talk show and that really didn’t pan out to her. She certainly was a forerunner to Katie Couric, so there’s no guarantee. Other famous people that have tired to do talk shows, have not come out with the ratings expectations that they had hoped for.”

But Couric has a lot going for her. She is known for her skill in the interview chair – as evidenced by a successful 15-year run on Today – and the hard news credibility she further established at CBS News also make her an attractive daytime property.

Adgate says one positive is that the ABC owned stations are considered very strong in their markets. Beyond that ABC/Disney will have to line up stations and station groups to partner in the launch and agree to carry the new show, hopefully also in the afternoon.

Disney/ABC’s negotiating team has been led by Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney working with Janice Marinelli, president of Disney-ABC Domestic Television, Rebecca Campbell, O&O president and Ben Sherwood, president of ABC News.

Couric’s team has included Zucker, veteran syndication executive Ed Wilson, CAA agent Alan Berger, attorney Craig Jacobson and her publicist Matthew Hiltzik.

Couric’s payday from Disney-ABC is said to be between $5-$10 million a year on a two year deal with potential upgrades depending on the she show’s profitability. That is a relatively short term but not unusual. After two years stations can opt out, or if it is going well, sign longer term agreements for more money, which would help increase Couric and Zucker’s remuneration.

ABC will have to carve out space on its owned stations for Couric in time for a targeted fall 2012 launch. Sources say ABC is eyeing an afternoon slot for Couric and would likely give an hour back to the stations in the hopes that they’ll use it to pick up Couric’s show. The network has already cancelled two daytime soaps – One Life to Live and All My Children – and will replace them with lifestyle shows this fall.

General Hospital airs on ABC at 3 p.m. in most markets and the network is not likely to cancel what will be its last remaining soap opera. But it could shift it to an earlier hour.

Meanwhile, many local stations including WABC, the company’s flagship O&O in New York, have already launched 4 p.m. newscasts to fill the post-Oprah void. But it remains to be seen if ABC’s new daytime shows -- The Chew, a cooking show with Mario Batali, and The Revolution, a lifestyle show featuring Tim Gunn among others -- will succeed. If one of both of them fail, there will be more slots open.

Couric’s daytime show has been described by sources as interview-centric with the kind of human-interest stories Couric excelled at telling at Today. 

A perch at ABC News allows Couric to stay on television – and front and center in the minds of viewers – while she readies her talk show. She would be sharing the screen with a full stable of veteran ABC anchors including Diane Sawyer – who as World News anchor is the face of the news division; GMA co-hosts Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos and This Week anchor Christiane Amanpour, who last year joined ABC News from CNN.

ABC’s Couric offer is also said to include primetime specials, which was a point in Amanpour’s deal as well, while Sawyer also continues to helm segments for 20/20.

Since Sherwood took over as ABC News president last December, he has set about wooing anchor talent including Lara Spencer from The Insider and Josh Elliott from ESPN’s SportsCenter. And getting Couric, who won accolades if not ratings during five years as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, is something Sherwood is said to be very enthusiastic about.

For Sherwood, it is a page from the book of Roone Arledge, the late, legendary ABC News chief and architect of the anchor star system that paid big bucks for big talent, building ABC News into a major force during his era.

Alex Ben Block and Lacey Rose contributed to this article.

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