Katie Jeff ZuckerI hear Disney-ABC has launched a search for top-level producer(s) to take the reins of Katie Couric‘s syndicated daytime talk show. The contingency plan is being put in place as speculation intensifies that Katie executive producer Jeff Zucker would be leaving the freshman talker. I hear talks with potential candidates are under way, and a hire is expected within the next couple of weeks. Zucker has a major financial interest in Katie (some sources indicate he is poised to pocket $8 million from the $20 million guarantee to Couric and him), and is not likely to leave without a succession plan in place. But, having run one of the biggest media companies in the world, NBC Universal, he has been expected to jump back to the executive ranks. He currently has two lieutenants on the show: co-executive producers Michael Bass and Kathy Samuels.

There has been chatter about Zucker being courted for several top jobs, including CEO of Tribune, but attention has focused recently on the vacancy at CNN. With his strong news background, Zucker is considered a leading candidate to succeed CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton when he departs at the end of the year. Such timing would work for providing a smooth transition on Katie, which has a two-year deal with the ABC stations. (There are several other names bandied about for the CNN job including MSNBC head Phil Griffin and usual suspects David Westin, Andrew Heyward and Neal Shapiro).

As for Katie, it has not been a breakout success of the likes of Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray or Ellen, but its ratings have stabilized after an initial slip. Last week, the show continued to lead all freshman talkers in households (1.9/5, up a tenth from the previous week). It also was up a tenth in women 25-54 (1.0/6), a category where Katie has been running neck-and-neck with fellow newbie Steve Harvey. Among all syndicated talk shows, Katie finished No. 5 in household and No. 4 in women 25-54. Katie is very old-skewing. According to a report released last week, it has the highest median age of all syndicated talk shows on TV, 60.2. The show also has been dropping from its lead-in, with its lead-out, local news, also down in a number of markets.