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With Katie Couric’s contract set to expire in early June, the anchor is closing in on a decision about whether to stay at CBS News at a reduced salary or try to stake a claim in daytime TV.
Couric has entered the window in which she can entertain offers. While no decision regarding her future has been made, the anchor is working on a potential syndicated show, which could involve her friend and former NBC boss Jeff Zucker, according to two sources familiar with Couric’s plans. She is believed to have already begun conversations with Time Warner, NBCUniversal and her current employer, CBS, about the potential next act.
Each of these entities offers a powerful syndication arm as well as a news outlet, which is said to be a particularly appealing, if not necessary, combination for Couric. (Time Warner is home to CNN and Telepictures; CBS has CBS Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes as well as a syndication division; NBCUniversal owns MSNBC and a syndie arm.) NBC, Telepictures and CBS declined comment; Zucker did not respond.
If Couric were to move forward with a syndie show — which is a “strong likelihood,” according to one source — it would premiere in fall 2012. That would make staying with the news through the next election, as many had predicted, impossible. Couric would have a news presence of some sort, be it on CBS or elsewhere, in the interim.
While a syndicated show wouldn’t guarantee Couric an upfront $15 million the way her CBS News contract does, it would have the potential to be as lucrative — if not more — in success, given that she would be a profit participant. (Such a deal would likely include a production entity for Couric as well.)
There are no guarantees. The cautionary tale is still that of Jane Pauley, the former Today anchor whose talk-show effort famously flopped in 2004. One source suggested that having a news component baked into a Couric deal is as much a brand-builder as it is a backup plan.
For her part, Couric, 54, has already launched herself out of the confines of her 22-minute newscast, anchoring an online interview show (@katiecouric), penning a column for Glamour and recently appearing in the post-Super Bowl episode of Glee, a show she watches with her daughters. All of that, combined with her interview skills and demonstrated rapport with viewers during her 15-year tenure on Today, makes Couric an ideal fit for daytime should she decide to pursue this route.
Her timing is particularly advantageous. With Oprah Winfrey ending her daytime talk show in September, stations are busy figuring out how to fill the coming void. Ellen DeGeneres and newcomer Anderson Cooper will each occupy the 4 p.m. slot in certain markets. While a Couric offering is likely to be far pricier than Cooper’s — one source suggested her show could fetch $400,000-$500,000 a week in license fees — she is also a proven name in a crowded field.
Couric could still decide to stay with the evening news, though at a reduced price tag. CBS chief Leslie Moonves bluntly stated that the latter would be necessary. “The Katie Couric deal will be the last big deal of that kind ever done,” he said during a recent address at the University of Texas. “Those days are over because the news no longer generates the kind of revenue or success that [makes such deals] worth doing.” CBS declined comment.
Another potential wrinkle is the recent CBS News shake-up that moved 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager into the role of news chairman. Unlike predecessor Sean McManus, Fager is said to value reporting over star wattage.
“He’s a guy who doesn’t think hair and makeup make the ratings,” a CBS News insider says.
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