TCA 2012: Katie Couric on Sarah Palin, Erica Hill and Wooing Presidential Candidates

Wesley Mann
Katie Couric

The former "Today" and "CBS Evening News" host reveals a softer, cheerier side as she pitches the TV press on her upcoming ABC daytime show -- and the guests she hopes to lock down.

Katie Couric tuned up Thursday to show off the softer, cheerier and daytime-friendly Katie.

After showing a clip designed to remind viewers of Couric’s lighter side  -- Couric riding a bicycle! Couric joking with Beyonce! Couric walking dogs! -- the one-time Today host greeted members of the Television Critics Association with the kind of up-beat energy daytime television demands. "I'm the ultimate people person," she says, flashing a smile shown rarely during her five-year stint on CBS Evening News. But whether Couric will have success in the crowded landscape when her live daytime effort, Katie, bows September 10 remains an open question.

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Couric is somewhat tight-lipped about what the Jeff Zucker-produced show will entail, except to say that it will tackle one to three topics each day designed for a predominantly female audience. Among the possibilities: how to deal with the loss of a family member, how to care for an aging parent and how to get back into the dating season at 40-plus -- all things that she either has had to deal with or is currently dealing with in her own life.  Relatable, after all, is the goal for a show that is being marketed as “smart with heart.”

Though broader and lighter in tone, Couric says she will incorporate real world events, too. In fact, she claims she would have turned her focus to the Aurora, Co. tragedy had she been on the air already. She likely would have done a segment on gun laws or taken a deeper look at the pathology of a sociopath, says Couric, adding that the ancillary stories born out of tragedy are both plentiful and compelling.

To hear the host tell it, this show, which will feature a theme song written and performed by Sheryl Crow exclusively for Katie, will give Couric an opportunity to show both her hard-hitting journalism skills as well as a light-hearted side she displayed during her 15-year tenure on Today. The latter, she acknowledges, is not one that viewers have seen much of in the last half decade as Couric was forced to keep a more serious persona in her role as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

“I have to refamiliarize myself with the person that I was on the Today show a little bit,” she says, noting later that the "vitriol" that was spewed at her when she started at the evening news was the most challenging time in her 33-year career in the news business. "Some of the criticism was so shallow," she continues, recalling a time in which she was mocked for wearing a white jacket on the air after Labor Day. ("It was Armani, people!" she jokes now.)

Ultimately, Couric calls the entire period an important "character building" experience, and seems to have great sympathy for other female anchors, including ousted morning show anchors Ann Curry (NBC) and Erica Hill (CBS), who have been at the center of their own media swirls of late: "My heart was breaking for Ann that morning... You don’t like to see someone disappointed," she says of Curry, adding later that she feels "really bad" for Hill.

As for guests on the daily daytime effort, Couric has been vocal in the past about not wanting this to be another stop on the celebrity interview circuit. She revealed Thursday that she has already reached out to both presidential candidates and their wives as well as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, for whom she famously stumped during an interview for CBS years earlier. Asked whether she has heard back from Palin, Couric cracks a smile: “Not yet.”

What's more, Katie, which is being shot at the old Who Wants to be a Millionaire studio in Manhattan, will look to add franchises to the as well, including “Women who should be famous” segments featuring “remarkable women who are doing extraordinary things” and “YOLO: You only live once” pieces that will feature Couric and others checking items off of their bucket list. (Couric has already visited Danica Patrick at the Indianapolis Motor speedway.)

Asked what remains on her list, Couric half-jokingly rattles off such things as jumping out of an airplane, going on a date with George Clooney and starring in a Broadway musical. The latter seems unlikely, she quips, not only because of timing but also because of her limited skillset: “When I auditioned for my high school musical, Carnival, they cast me as a deaf mute,” she admits, garnering the kind of warm laughter she will need come fall.

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