Katie Couric says new show a 'chance to really be myself'

Katie Couric in Baltimore Monday to talk about her new show, 'Katie,' which debuts sept. 10 on WMAR (Channel 2).
Katie Couric in Baltimore Monday to talk about her new show, 'Katie,' which debuts sept. 10 on WMAR (Channel 2).

With the debut of her new syndicated talk show fast approaching, Katie Couric is on the road promoting it at some of the 174 stations that have signed on.

Last week, she was in Atlanta. This week, Baltimore.

With 95 percent national clearance, she has miles to go. Next stops Detroit and Seattle.

Monday, the 55-year-old former"Today"  show host sat down for an interview at WMAR-TV (Channel 2) in Baltimore. It's been four years since I talked to Couric.

Then, she was anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News," and we talked about the upcoming political conventions at which she would go on to be one of the journalistic stars -- following it up with a Sarah Palin interview that was one of the finest pieces of interviewing in the history of American politics. In fact. let me go on the record here and say I think Couric, at the top of her game, is as good an interviewer as the medium has. Yes, Charlie Rose included.

After a quick bit of 2008 presidential campaign reminiscing, Couric kicked off her shoes, sat back in her chair and chatted about the next phase of her career starting Sept. 10 on stations like WMAR.

Q. Why this venue, daytime talk, at this point in your career?

A. I guess, 'cuz I've done everything else? (Laughter)  No, I think it provided this blank canvas for me. I did morning television for 15 years and the evening news for five, and I thought, 'What would be an exciting new chapter?' And the notion of creating something from scratch and the idea having it reflect my vision and be an exciting challenge creatively and the chance to be able to really be myself -- this format offers all of that. It offers me the opportunity to do serious interviews, lighter interviews, interviews that require analysis, interviews that require compassion. I think I'll be flexing all my muscles with this show.

And that's really exciting, because while I really appreciated the opportunity to do the evening news, it was quite, I would say slightly confining for me, because it's everything jammed into 22 minutes. If you do have time to ask a question, you can probably only ask one brief question with a 20 second answer. And I'm the kind of person who likes to peel the onion and really get to heart of the matter. And to have an hour of television that you can divide into segments as warranted, is just a very exciting proposition for me... I think there's an opportunity for a deeper conversation about a lot of things that happen in the news, and I think this show will provide an outlet for that.

Q. It sounds like you might have just sounded one of your goals for this show with the notion of a 'deeper conversation.' But what are your overall goals. What are your benchmarks? What do you have to do to consider this show a success -- six months, a year in?

A. That's a hard question, because there's the hard, cold business side of it, right? And then there's the editorial content and the impact of the show. I've always dealt with the latter more than the former. I would say it will be successful if people are watching, if it's stimulating conversation, if it's illuminating some complicated topics, and making people occasionally smile and laugh and have a good time. And if it's inspiring people. All those things you hope a television show can do when it's at its best. I just hope it will be compelling, that people will feel compelled to watch, that they'll say. 'Gosh, I wonder what Katie's talking about today.'

OK, I don't usually talk about myself in the third person. 'I wonder what she's talking about.' I felt like Bob Dole. 'I wonder what she's talking about today. You know, gosh, I'm interested in that.' Or, 'Wow, that person's so inspiring.' It's kind of hard thing for me to qualify and quantify. But just something that's really good television. I would like it to be a show that respects the viewer, you know. I would like it to be intelligent but accessibly so.

The marketing department at ABC came up with the phrase 'smart with heart.' And I kind of like that, because I was flattered that they called me smart, but I have always tried to do my job with intelligence and humanity. That's my goal. And I have pretty high standards for myself, so I am not going to go all downmarket and do the kinds of things, you know. I mean, listen, there's a place for that, too. Maury [Povich] does a great job and I love Maury. He's a friend of mine. But it's just a very different kind of feel, I think, for what my show is. And I think it's a natural extension of who I am and what I'm interested in.

Q. Earlier, you said this show would let you be yourself. How would that differ from who you were on, say, the 'Today' show? Was that just a younger version of the Katie Couric viewers will see here in some ways?

A. I think when you have a lot of time to have natural, spontaneous conversations, to interact with people, I think viewers get a real sense of who you are and what your core values are and how you relate to other people. And I think those kinds of venues just lend themselves to somebody like me who feels very comfortable in her own skin and wants to do more than just, you know. Look, I love serious news, and I'm a serious person. But I'm also kind of a spontaneous person who likes to interact with people. 

I feel like at this point, I've really honed my interview skills and I'm really good hopefully at letting the interview subject shine and giving them a comfort zone where they can really be the best they are. Not always, because sometimes people deserve to squirm. And sometimes people need to be challenged on certain things. But, in general, you have to make people feel relaxed to get the best out of them. And, in some cases, you have to make them feel safe -- especially people who have been through something traumatic or have some hardship to talk about. And I think I've always been a naturally empathetic person. What I lack in IQ, I think I make up for in EQ.

In Baltimore, "Katie" will air at 4 p.m. weekdays on WMAR starting Sept. 10. For more information about the show, go to katiecouric.com.

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