“Katie” Couric Cures ABC’s Rating Woes

Looks like “Katie” Couric brought ABC more than a smile to heal weak ratings resulting in the absence of Oprah. Pun intended because it looks like “Katie” Cured ABC’s rating woes.

With the Celebrated Daytime Talk Show War of 2012 only a day old, Katie Couric will sleep well tonight. “Katie,” beat out debuts on Monday by Ricki Lake and Jeff Probst, according to Nielsen ratings.

In preliminary ratings, Monday’s premiere of “Katie,” in which the “Today” veteran and former “CBS Evening News” anchor gabbed with Jessica Simpson and Sheryl Crow, drew an estimated 1.535-million viewers from the top 56 U.S. markets (overall viewership numbers, drawn from the country as a whole, are expected to be considerably higher).

“Katie,” the ABC-distributed program featuring former CBS news anchor Katie Couric, attracted the largest audience in a decade for a new daytime talk show.

This put Couric comfortably ahead of the freshman talk-show pack: “Katie” outdrew “Steve Harvey” by 87%,  “Jeff Probst” by 150% and “Ricki Lake” by a whopping 250%. The show also earned the highest daytime premiere ratings since “Dr. Phil” launched back in 2002.

“Katie” was also No. 1 in its time slot in New York and Los Angeles, the top two television markets in the country. (No word yet on how the show fared in Wasilla, Alaska.)

The news can be interpreted one of three ways: Couric is in fact destined to become the next Oprah Winfrey;  her aggressive pre-launch promotional blitz worked; or Americans simply haven’t tired of hearing about Jessica Simpson’s diet.

Of course, a daytime talk show is more like a marathon — make that an ultra-marathon — than a sprint, so it’s far too soon for “Katie” to declare victory just yet.  But for today at least, Couric has plenty to be smiling about.

The debut marked a strong start of the fall daytime season for stations owned by Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ABC. “Katie” ranked first or second in its time period in each of the top 15 U.S. markets, including No. 1 finishes in New York and Los Angeles, ABC said today in a statement.

 

Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, rose 0.1 percent to $51.56 at the close in New York. Shares of the Burbank, California-based company have gained 37 percent this year. An all-time closing high (DIS) of $51.86 was reached Sept. 6.

Couric, 55, who anchored the “CBS Evening News” for five years after being on NBC’s “Today” for 15 years, is executive producer of the show with Jeff Zucker, former chief executive officer of NBC Universal. The program is distributed by Disney- ABC Domestic Television.

Couric’s show also outdrew the 1.3 rating for the second- year premiere of “Anderson,” featuring CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, Disney said, citing Nielsen data.

In a way, Katie Couric’s decision to have Jessica Simpson be one of the first guests when her daytime talk show, “Katie,” premiered on Monday made perfect sense: Both women had something to prove.

Couric, of course, was showing that she’s ready to transition from news anchor to daytime personality and emphasizing how relatable she is to just about everyone. Simpson, on the other hand, was throwing body critics off her back by showing off her weight loss progress and touting her health philosophy.

Wearing a black, long-sleeved dress with an on-trend peplum at the waist, Simpson told Couric that she’s lost about the equivalent of a “small child” since she first began her work as a Weight Watchers spokesperson following the delivery of daughter Maxwell in May.

But the weight loss certainly didn’t come as easily as the 32-year-old star originally imagined.

“I think during pregnancy I didn’t really think about it. I thought my doctors were telling me that it was just a lot of water, and whenever my water broke, my whole entire stomach would go down,” Simpson said with a laugh. “But that did not happen. All the weight did not come out with the baby.”

Instead, Simpson’s been concentrating on her diet and setting small goals for herself that she can accomplish each week, and she said has been seeing the pounds drop off.

But, she hastened to add, she’s not working toward a “big body reveal” – and in fact opted to shoot a new Weight Watchers commercial from the neck up to make that point.

“It’s really not about the numbers – I’ve lost enough weight where I can pat myself on the back,” she told Couric. “I really have to separate myself from the world’s expectations, and really just look inside of myself and have a relationship with myself and be healthy with myself, because I want to be a phenomenal role model for my child.”

Couric and Simpson touched on motherhood – “a dream,” Simpson said – and her engagement to Eric Johnson – no, they haven’t set a date yet – while viewers questioned if this was going to be standard “Katie” fare from here on out.

The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz found Couric’s enthusiasm to be “infectious,” but was more hesitant about the talk show’s content.

The interview with Simpson, Kurtz said, “underscored the challenge Couric faces as an experienced journalist and masterful interviewer who nevertheless must appeal to stay-at-home moms who are more interested in anorexia than Afghanistan,” he wrote. So while the “show feels less newsy than originally advertised,” it might be a good thing, “given the importance of connecting with the 25–54 female demo.”

The Los Angeles Times was also disappointed with Couric’s lack of weighty issues (no pun intended – seriously), bluntly positing that “if Couric was the best and brightest candidate to replace Oprah, things are not looking good, America.”

And so, the Times’ Mary McNamara continued, “if you were expecting Couric to leverage her anchor experience by making her talk show even a little smarter than most, well, that’s not the direction she appears to be choosing.”

But perhaps we just all need to adjust our expectations. The New York Times points out that in these post-“Oprah” show times, a daytime host has to find “an underserved niche.” While Couric’s competitors are using inspirational stories and approachable advice to woo audiences, Couric appears to be trying to show both audience members and her star guests that she’s “Miss Relatability.”

Time magazine observed that “that’s the line Katie will have to dance on to become the Next Whoever Comes After Oprah. … Katie may not be as successful as Oprah, but she does, whatever you think of this format, seem immediately comfortable in it, cracking unguarded jokes but also owning her celebrity.”

The “core trick she attempted on her first episode – existing at once on the level of her audience and her guests,” Time concluded, will be a deciding factor in the show’s success.

Though reviews were less than promising, if rating stay, Couric might just as well ignore them all. It’s possible Couric is just what the doctor or should I say ABC ordered; something that would cure their ratings problem. Perhaps Couric is that cure.

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