We predicted more than two years ago that Katie Couric wasn't exactly a good fit for daytime TV. But that didn't deter the suits at Disney/ABC, who green-lighted her afternoon talk show, in Oprah Winfrey's old time slot.
It was supposed to be a sure thing; after all, Ms. Couric ruled the roost as co-host of the once-dominant "Today" show. Of course, her stint in the anchor chair at the "CBS Evening News" was something of a debacle; the evening newscast remained mired in third place throughout her five years on the job and ratings actually declined with her at the helm--no mean feat, considering the hole dug by her predecessor, Dan Rather.
Still, the smart boys at girls at Disney were undeterred. The Couric talk fest was given an annual budget of $50 million, roughly twice that of competing shows. The host's salary accounted for roughly 40% of total, meaning that Couric actually got a pay raise from the $15 million a year she was making at CBS. It was supposed to be a smart investment; plenty of TV executives saw "Katie" as a sure thing.
Now, that "sure thing" appears headed for cancellation. From The Hollywood Reporter:
"One of the TV's priciest daytime experiments soon could be coming to an end. Stations throughout the U.S. are contracted to carry Katie Couric's syndicated talk show through summer 2014, but the decision on whether Katiewill score a likely will be made this month -- and renewal seems a long shot.
Disney/ABC projected the reteaming of Couric with her Today Jeff Zucker would average a 2.5 household rating, which would have made Katie one of the biggest syndicated launches. Instead, it averaged a 1.7 during its first season and a 1.8 so far this season. (A Couric spokesman insists she never approved the 2.5 projection.)
Katie insiders say the problem is that Couric has refused to shape shows with softer features to appeal to daytime's key 25-to-54-year-old female demo, insisting instead on the kind of harder-edged interviews she enjoyed on Today and her stint as anchor of CBS Evening News.
Couric's show has also been plagued by a constant turnover of key personnel. Still, the biggest problem may be the host herself. In a previous article, The Hollywood Reporter cited results of recent "likeability" surveys on various daytime TV hosts; Couric finished near the bottom, viewed favorably by only 10% of the audience and unfavorably by 21%. By comparison, Ellen DeGeneres has favorable and unfavorable "Q" scores of 29 and 10% respectively.
It's worth noting that the survey was conducted among female viewers, the key demo for any daytime talk show. If women aren't watching Katie now, there's little reason to believe they will tune in next year. Incidentally, the likeability data was almost certainly leaked by Disney execs (to signal an impending cancellation), or by rival production firms, who would like to put their own shows on stations now carrying Katie.
Meanwhile, Couric's smaller-than-expected audience is driving down ratings for the late afternoon/early evening news shows on many local stations. Among that group are the eight TV stations owned by Disney/ABC; most dominate the local news ratings in their markets, but with a poor lead-in from the Couric show, their audience may also shrink, driving down revenues from an all-important profit center.
There are also reports that Disney is working on a vehicle for "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, though both the host and the network deny those claims. Still, there is no doubt that Ms. Roberts is far more popular than Couric; since assuming the lead role on GMA, that program has become the dominant morning program on network TV, ending "Today's" long run in the top slot.
While I never reached the executive suite during my days in the broadcasting salt mines, Katie Couric's failure as a talk show host is anything but a surprise. Many viewers consider her shrill, strident, and biased, qualities that don't wear well on an afternoon talk show.
But don't shed any tears for The Perky One. by various accounts, she is already in talks with Yahoo and CNN about possible deals when her current contract with ABC expires next summer. Other speculation centers on a possible return to "Today," although her long-time co-host Matt Laurer is expected to depart next year, and it's doubtful NBC would give her the type of contract she wants. On the other hand, Couric's former executive producer Jeff Zucker is now running CNN, which remains ratings-challenged. Given their long association, it's not hard to envision Couric getting a fat contract with that network, giving her the opportunity to "fail up" once more.
A final note for the program development folks at Disney/ABC. If you need a consultant to help you find a replacement for Katie, give us a call. We'll give better advice (and at a lower price) that you received two years ago, when Couric in the afternoons seemed like such a good idea.