Katie Couric Opens Up About Her New Talk Show (Q&A)

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Katie Couric and Anne Sweeney

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Disney/ABC TV Group president Anne Sweeney joins Couric to discuss the talk show, the news offerings and what her next act will -- and won't -- entail.

On the heels of Katie Couric's announcement that she will be launching a talk show with ABC in September of 2012, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Couric and Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney to discuss the format, the desired guests and how Couric's new ABC colleagues have responded.

The Hollywood Reporter: Katie, what do you envision for the talk show?

Katie Couric: Well, the ink is barely dry. We’ve started to talk about it in broad terms, and I think we’d like the show to be topical and to really capture the zeitgeist of what people are talking about. It will be serious at times, obviously informative and fun. Really, a mixture of things we hope people will be interested in. It’s not going to be a news show, but we’ll be talking about the news and issues that I think people care about, whether it’s bullying or the effect technology has on our kids. It might be a profile of a navy seal after Osama Bin Laden has been killed; it might talk about women in the military and some of the stresses they experience in reentry with their families.

What’s nice is that I’ve been in television news for 32 years now and I have so many different interests and have been exposed to so many fascinating topics throughout the course of my career, whether it was when I was covering the pentagon for NBC, working on the Today show or even in my personal life learning about Cancer research because of my husband. I think I have a wealth of experience that I hope will be brought to bear to help enlighten people about a number of issues. I care so much about so many things. At 54 – I don’t know why I keep insisting on revealing my age -- I still have this insatiable curiousity and this need to understand the world around me. I hope that that will translate to and appeal to the audience.

THR: On the news front, are their specific topics that you intend to focus on as you become a member of the news division?

Couric: Wherever I can be helpful. Obviously I love doing newsmaker interviews, and if I can contribute in any way to that, I would love to. I love reporting, getting out in the field and talking to people about various issues. I love figuring out how things that are going on on Capitol Hill impact everyday Americans. I love to just get out and talk to folks and hear what they have to say and bring important issues to light that may not be getting attention. So, I’m here to serve.

THR: Anne, how do you envision Katie fitting into an ABC talent pool that is already vast?

Anne Sweeney: Katie is unique. As I was just listening to her describe the show and the kinds of things that she’s interested in, I found myself getting excited all over again. How curious she is, how well and how often she has engaged me as a member of her audience. The things that she’s interested in and her great ability to take people on this journey with a story. I think she’s a terrific addition not just to our news division but also there’s tremendous excitement about the kind of syndicated show that she’s going to do because it isn’t out there. We don’t have a person like Katie Couric, who is willing to really take on the important stories of the day or the stories that are in the zeitgeist.

THR: There is a topical and newsy element to this show. Knowing that news itself doesn’t repeat well, how do you make sense of what works in the daytime landscape and the desire to be topical?

Couric: I think we’ll be looking at it and refining it. We’ve been talking this morning, Anne and I, about how people are just on information overload. I would say there’s TMI and NEU, too much information and not enough understanding. I think for people to have an opportunity to think about issues and to talk about them is important. We’re talking about a wide variety of subjects; it could be anything. I watched a documentary the other night on HBO, which was so incredibly powerful. It was called How to Die in Oregon, about their death-with-dignity law and it profiled this amazingly brave woman. She was 54, so it reminded me a lot of my sister – that was how old she was when she died. It was all about this woman and her family was so amazing. I thought, ‘Gee, if I had a show, I would invite her husband and children, the documentarian and then someone who felt uncomfortable with the Oregon law, and have an intelligent conversation about something that people probably find difficult to talk about but probably need to talk about.' So that’s a serious topic that I would try to tackle. Then there are a lot of less serious topic that I’m interested in.

THR: Such as?

Couric: Like what is going on with all of these men who cant keep it in their pants? The situation with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. What is it about the pathology, the neurology and the psychological makeup of a powerful man – the hubris that makes them engage is such risky and thoughtless behavior? To me, that’s a conversation about something that everyone is discussing but I think you could tackle it in a way that Time magazine did with its cover story about why men are such pigs. It would be fun, interesting and engaging. So these are the kinds of things that I’m interested in that I think a lot of folks are talking about.

THR: We’re still a year-plus away but are dream guests in your mind?

Couric: Not yet, I don’t want to say because I don’t want to be disappointed if I’m not able to snag them. I think there is no shortage of fascinating people to talk to -- and I’m not talking about big, famous people, I’m talking about everyday people who are going through different travails. There are so many people doing extraordinary things in this world – who have started foundations, who have started schools. Those are stories that if given enough time and told well are important; and I think people want to celebrate the incredible things that others are doing out there. I want this show to provide an outlet that can highlight these kinds of people and the work that they’re doing and inspire people to maybe do things in their own communities. Without sounding too much like Pollyanna, what a privilege it would be to be a conduit for those types of stories.

THR: Is that to say there won’t be a mix of celebrities?

Couric: No, no, I hope you don’t try to pigeonhole this show before it’s even on the air. I think the beauty of this show is that it can be all sorts of different things. If there’s a celebrity that’s doing something really interesting – if Catherine Zeta-Jones wanted to talk about the importance of removing the stigma of mental issues, obviously that’s something that we’d want to do. If someone has a really fun, interesting movie coming out, that’s something that we’d want to do. Or if the guys behind the Book of Mormon wanted to come on and talk about it. Those are people who I’d want to talk to, but I think just celebrity for celebrity’s sake isn’t something we’re going to be doing a lot of. But there are plenty of celebrities who are fascinating people and doing really interesting work, so of course we would do some of it that as well. I don’t want to say it will be a smorgasbord, especially because I’m hungry, but I think it can be a lot of different things. It’s work in progress and it will probably continue to be even after we start on the air.

THR: The syndicated marketplace is not one that ABC/Disney has been active in in terms of launching new fare in recent years. Why was this the right time?

Sweeney: It was the right time because it was the right person. When we spoke to Janice Marinelli, who heads our domestic syndication group, from minute one she was thrilled about the possibility of taking Katie’s show into syndication and certainly the potent combo of Katie and her executive producer Jeff Zucker. The other thing that’s important to look at with Katie is everything that she has done in the digital realm. Her excitement about digital and her excitement about digital storytelling are a very compelling proposition and certainly very supportive of the show.

THR: Katie, have you connected with new colleagues such as Christiane Amanpour, Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters? And if so, what have those conversations been like?

Couric: Diane reached out to me a couple of weeks ago. She’s in Afghanistanright now, but I left her a message. I talked to Christiane and Barbara and I left a message for Cynthia McFadden. I had a nice talk with Elizabeth Vargas, a former colleague at NBC. Christiane and I worked together at CNN back in the day. I have so much respect for all of these women, and I’m just thrilled to be working at a place that embraces strong, smart women. Everybody has been tremendously warm and welcoming and I’m really excited to be part of this team.

And so nobody thinks that I’m sexist [laughs], I should add that I not only called the women of ABC but also the men of ABC. I left a message for George Stephanopoulos. Basically, I’ve reached out to everybody and all of the executive producers and had really nice conversations with all of them. They seem enthusiastic about me joining the team and that made me feel so good about my decision.