By interesting serendipity, the news about the final Oprah show and the new round of speculation that Katie Couric will most likely leave the CBS Evening News anchor chair in June came in within minutes of each other today. The coincidence is intriguing as Couric is touted as a potential successor to Oprah Winfrey as she is preparing for her next career as a daytime talk-show host.
Couric, of course, won’t be a direct replacement for Oprah, and not only because a whole year will separate Oprah’s exit from daytime and Couric’s expected arrival in fall 2012. Interestingly enough, Dr. Oz can claim that title. Of the 155 markets in which Oprah is not being replaced by a newscast, more than 80, including two of the Top 5, went with Dr. Oz in the Oprah slot, more than all other talk shows combined. As for ratings supremacy, Judge Judy, already beating Oprah on a regular basis, is expected to become the undisputed new daytime queen, with Dr. Phil and Ellen also poised to get a boost.
But Couric is the biggest name to hit daytime syndication since Jane Pauley in 2004, and the media frenzy over the move is understandable. From a station group perspective, the NBC O&Os have the most openings and seem the most eager to go after a Couric-hosted show. The NBC stations now carry reruns of Bravo’s The Real Housewives reality franchise. The deal is coming to an end, and industry insiders believe it won’t be renewed for next season. The stations may go with a show for next fall that would serve as a placeholder for Couric. Additionally, the NBC O&Os’ deal for Nate Berkus expires in the fall of 2012, which could create another opening. “They are a very likely candidate for a Katie Couric syndicated show,” one observer said of the NBC stations. On the production side, a high-profile project like a Katie Couric talker would be a shot in the arm for NBC’s anemic syndication division, which was behind the disastrous Pauley show and has not produced a talk show since another ill-fated attempt, The Megan Mullally Show, in 2006. I hear that new NBC Broadcast chairman Ted Harbert, who oversees both NBC’s station group and domestic syndication unit, has been spearheading efforts to woo former Today host Couric back to NBC, working with syndication veteran Ed Wilson, who has been advising Couric along with former NBC Uni CEO Jeff Zucker.
Couric’s other main option is staying at CBS. From a station point of view, the CBS O&Os have no openings, with their entire daytime lineup working well, between the game-show block, Dr. Phil and Judge Judy. There are rumors about CBS being open to moving current shows, including speculation that Dr. Phil may go to duopoly CBS stations in some markets, including Los Angeles, to make room for Couric, but a source close to the matter said that it would be hard to convince the stations to mess with something that is working in order to try something new. Nevertheless, CBS is said to be aggressive in its efforts to keep Couric in the fold, and the strength of CBS’ syndication division, which has eight of the top 10 shows, is said to be appealing to Couric. CBS TV Distribution produces shows not only for the CBS O&Os, so it is possible to have a Katie Couric show made by the syndication division of one conglomerate and airing on the station group owned by another, but observers consider that unlikely. As for concern that the bad blood between Zucker and CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves could get in the way of Moonves buying a show in which Zucker is involved, “that does not appear to be an issue,” an insider said. “Even (Zucker’s) detractors agree that he’s a very talented producer.”
There appears to be very little potential play beyond the NBC and CBS station groups. I hear the ABC O&Os have passed on a Katie Couric show. According to observers, that is not surprising as a potential play for Couric would be an indication that the stations have little faith in the news programs that are replacing Oprah in most markets. As for the Fox stations, while it is a remote possibility (the station group carried the mainstream Dr. Oz originally), the Fox O&Os are known for edgier fare such as TMZ and The Wendy Williams Show.