Between the Morning and the Evening, Katie Couric Settles In to Her Comfort Zone

By Gail Shister 

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If today’s long-awaited debut of Katie Couric’s syndicated talk show resembled an infomercial for Weight Watchers, that’s because it was.

The first three segments of Couric’s Disney chatfest were devoted almost entirely to guest Jessica Simpson’s post-partum weight loss — thanks to Weight Watchers. There were so many rhapsodic plugs, I kept waiting for the 800 number and my free ginzu knife.

Simpson gushed about her new role as a Weight Watchers poster girl. Then came a sneak preview of her Weight Watchers ad, followed by a full segment joined by her Weight Watchers coach. The capper was a free two-week Weight Watchers membership, via ‘Katie’s’ website.

To be kind, Jessica Simpson was no Sarah Palin, but Couric appeared to be thoroughly enjoying the absence of heavy lifting. After her hellish tenure as anchor of ‘CBS Evening News,’ ‘Katie’ must feel like a fabulous, all-expenses paid vacation. Hey, if Anderson Cooper did it, why not Couric?

Call it ‘Today Extra Lite.’

As has become the fashion, ‘Katie’ opened with a cutesy taped bit. More than a little derivative, given that she did the same thing for her guest-hosting stint on ‘Good Morning America’ in April.

She wakes up from a weird dream and proceeds to tell it to a mystery person in the other twin bed. (An homage to ‘I Love Lucy?’) “I dreamed I left ‘Today’ to anchor the evening news, and I did it for five years, and then I dreamed I was going to be hosting my own daytime talk show!”

Peeling back the covers, a jammies-clad Matt Lauer says: “That wasn’t a dream, and the talk show starts right now!” Cue hilarity.

After almost a full half-hour of Jessica Simpson and Weight Watchers, however, I was reeling from estrogen-induced boredom. Thankfully, the next guest, Sheryl Crow, who composed ‘Katie’s’ up-tempo theme song and is a good friend of the host, had some interesting things to say.

In fact, Couric’s studio audience was stacked with family and friends, as she cheerfully acknowledged in the opening – her two daughters, her mom, her junior-high cheerleading buds. The whole audience seemed to be female. Most were dressed in reds and blues, matching Couric’s frock and the show’s pastel set. (Coincidence? I think not.)

In a refreshing bit of candor, Couric matter-of-factly told the audience she had turned 55 this year. (She also informed us that she had remembered to “pee” before the show, in accordance to a fan’s tweet. Thanks for sharing.)

Tomorrow’s guest is multiple amputee Aimee Copeland, a graduate student who survived a rare form of flesh-eating bacteria, and Wednesday’s is post-Seal supermodel Heidi Klum. Jennifer Lopez and Wendy Williams are also on tap.

With syndicated shows hosted by ‘Survivor’s’ Jeff Probst, standup Steve Harvey and former talker Ricki Lake also having debuted today, not to mention the return of Ellen DeGeneres and Cooper, the daytime landscape will quickly become overpopulated. The herd must be culled.

My money is on Couric. She and executive producer Jeff Zucker, her former ‘Today’ boss, are clearly in their comfort zones here, and it shows. Over time, Couric will find her footing, as well as her audience. It won’t be ‘Ellen’-size, but it will ensure ‘Katie’s’ survival.

And if Couric has shown us anything over the decades, it is that she’s a survivor.

(Photos: Disney-ABC / Ida Mae Astute)