If anyone knows how much can happen over the course of 12 months, it's Katie Couric.
After beginning 2011 still serving as anchor and managing editor of "CBS Evening News," she's ending it with one of her first major ventures since joining ABC News, part of a deal that also will see her launch a syndicated weekday talk show for parent company Disney/ABC next fall. A co-production with People magazine, the special "The Year With Katie Couric" airs Thursday, Dec. 15.
"It is quite helpful to get more of a bird's-eye view on some of these issues," Couric says of the retrospective's inclusion of such stories as the Republican candidates' presidential debates and the Penn State University sex abuse scandal. "By not covering every moment of every story, I think you can have a slightly different perspective."
Couric is grateful to have a two-hour slot to look back at 2011, but she claims, "This is going to be turbocharged, a year-ender on steroids. I don't think we're going to go into huge depth on any one story, because these are stories everyone is pretty familiar with. Of course, though, we want to bring them up to speed. If we're talking about the Arab Spring, we're going to talk about where we are now in terms of the revolutions that were so mind-boggling in the Middle East."
In making "The Year" what she terms "a fast-paced and fun show," Couric also will revisit happier stories she covered while at CBS, such as the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. "It's going to be jam-packed with the stories that really captured our attention and our imaginations this year. News comes so fast and furious, it'll be great to see how the year unfolded through stories that seem to vanish into the ether pretty quickly.
"Of course, I still play close attention to the news," Couric adds of the period when she doesn't have a daily television platform. "It's important for me to do that as a journalist, but also as someone who's trying to figure out how to make a really exciting, interesting and topical show for next fall. Sometimes I think, 'I wish I was on the air now, because this would make a great one-hour show,' but some of these stories -- sadly -- are evergreens.
"For example, there's the Penn State story. When it dies down, which it probably won't for quite a while, children will still be getting abused. It's a critically important story to tackle, no matter what the news peg is. It's good to pay attention to some of the broader issues these stories represent."
Comedian Chelsea Handler and fashion expert Tim Gunn are among the contributors to "The Year," fulfilling Couric's aim for "unexpected commentators. We don't want this to be the same-old, same-old. We'll have some people who are very funny, some who are serious and some who have unique perspectives. We just don't want this to be the same 'talking heads' you see maybe too frequently on some networks."
A "Hall of Shame" segment will be included as well, and as Couric puts it, "You can probably guess some of the people who will be in that." As she now closes out her own 2011, she admits to mixed emotions about it.
"It's been a sad year for me because I lost my dad (news editor John Couric Jr.), and that kind of eclipses everything else, but professionally, it's been an exciting year. I turned the page and am opening a new chapter, and it's very entrepreneurial and very creative. It's a lot of responsibility to put together a show with your name on it, and to staff it and figure out what direction you're going in, but it's been really invigorating for me.
"Similarly," Couric adds, "it's been fun for me to be back at ABC News, where my career began lo, so many years ago (as a desk assistant in the Washington, D.C., bureau). I have a lot of friends here already, and it's been wonderful for me to be part of this fantastic news division. It's been going really, really well."
Recent "Dancing With the Stars" contestant Ricki Lake, "Survivor" host Jeff Probst and comedian Steve Harvey also will launch talk shows next fall. "I always think there's always room for really good television, and the people who benefit are the viewing public," reasons Couric, whose "Katie" will reunite her with former "Today" executive producer (and later NBC Universal chief) Jeff Zucker. "If anybody wants to come onto the playground and play well and put on a great product, I'm excited to have them be a part of the landscape."
During the last weeks of 2011, Couric also assembled a "20/20" farewell tribute to Regis Philbin upon his departure from weekday television, and she interviewed Lady Gaga as part of an ABC Thanksgiving-night special. While she'll get back to daily duty nine months from now, she reflects that having some time off from it "has been a nice break for me.
"I think some people are jonesing to be on television every day, but I'm not necessarily one of them. I did it for 20 years, so it's been nice to have a little more flexibility in my schedule. At least for now."