Couric, whose new show, "Katie," debuts Sept. 10 on ABC (NYSE: DIS), said she felt "liberated" after she left "CBS Evening News" last year amid stubbornly low ratings. In 2006, Couric was lured from her longtime gig as the co-host of NBC's (Nasdaq: CMCSA) "Today" show with the promise of revitalizing the tired formula of evening newscasts. However, ratings on the program continued to sag, with "CBS Evening News" consistently landing in third place throughout her five-year run. In April 2011, Couric, the first solo female anchor of a nighttime newscast, stepped down from the show.
But that might have been for the best. Couric told Good Housekeeping that she had felt "constrained" in an environment where people were "projecting their own issues on to me." She also admitted that the hard-news format of "CBS Evening News" "wasn't a good fit for my sensibilities and personality" -- a hint at how her on-air persona is going to change for her debut next month. The daytime "Katie" will tackle serious issues such as dating violence, sexless marriages and family dysfunction in the modern world. If that sounds familiar, Couric herself confesses that the format is unquestionably reminiscent of a certain daytime queen who recently departed the airwaves.
"Comparisons are inevitable," she told Newsweek's Howard Kurtz, admitting that she hesitates to bring up the O-word. "[But] I'm a very different person from Oprah, with my own sensibilities and life experience."
Nevertheless, the void left behind by Oprah Winfrey has been palpable since her longtime show went off the air in March of last year, leaving some to ask whether anyone is up to the task of replacing her. Anderson Cooper, whose daytime effort "Anderson" debuted in September 2011, has so far proved underwhelming. Last month, producers announced that the show will be reformatted for its new season to include a live audience and a slew of high-profile guest co-hosts.
Others are throwing their hat into the ring as well. Ricki Lake will return to the daytime arena with "The Ricki Lake Show," which will premiere the same day as "Katie" in first-run syndication. Lake's new show will reportedly be "less sensational" than her previous effort. Also debuting on Sept. 10 is "The Jeff Probst Show," a syndicated daytime offering from the host of "Survivor." And that's not all: The week prior to "Katie's" debut will see the premiere of Steve Harvey's talk/variety effort, "The Steve Harvey Show," and two weeks later, the British TV presenter Trisha Goddard will debut her new syndicated talk show, "Trisha."
While Couric, with her journalistic credentials and fervent fan base, ostensibly has the best shot of the bunch at claiming Oprah's title, she still faces the insurmountable challenge of capturing the nebulous formula that made Oprah connect so effortlessly with her viewers. To make matters more complicated, Oprah herself hasn't really gone away. On Monday, Forbes magazine announced that she topped its annual list of highest-paid celebrities for the fourth year in a row. And although her fledgling cable network, OWN, has struggled in the ratings, Winfrey is attempting to turn things around by stepping up her presence with shows such as "Oprah's Next Chapter" and "Oprah's Lifeclass." That means her visibility on the network will only increase in the coming year.
Which may spell trouble for Couric and company. In the end, nobody has a better chance at becoming the new Oprah than the old Oprah.