Despite large audience, Katie Couric is still Katie with no Cure in site

Katie Couric attracted the largest audience in a decade for a new daytime talk show on ABC.

The show produced a 2.8 rating in its debut yesterday, according to Nielsen data supplied by the producers. That was the biggest audience for a new daytime talk show since “Dr. Phil” in 2002, they said. A ratings point equals 1 percent of the 115.7 million U.S. TV homes.

The debut marked a strong start of the fall daytime season for stations owned by Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ABC, many of which carried Oprah Winfrey before she left broadcast TV for cable. “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, the producers said today in a statement.

Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, rose 0.2 percent to $51.62 at 12:19 p.m. in New York. Shares of the Burbank, California-based company had gained 37 percent this year as of yesterday. An all-time closing high of $51.86 was set on Sept. 6.Couric, 55, who anchored the “CBS Evening News” for five years, is executive producer of the show with Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive officer of NBC Universal.

Katie Couric’s new talk show – taped Monday morning and launched later in the day – pretty much made the case that the last five years never even existed. “Evening News?” And, let just say, there was no need to expect any more that what you got, because despite large audience,  Katie Couric is still Katie with no cure in site.

The past is the past and – in fact, watching first guest Jessica Simpson endorse Weight Watchers over and over – maybe never even happened at all.

The long history of TV is littered with remakes and re-dos, some of them even successful, but it’s up to viewers now to decide whether this do-over is worth the time and trouble. Honestly, the first edition of “Katie” didn’t convincingly answer that question one way or the other – and more on that in a bit.

The New Katie, like the old, is an expert TV performer who knows how to ask the right questions at the right junctures even when the question seems about as consequential as a sneeze (“how challenging has it been to lose the weight? she asked Simpson, who said “it’s not about the numbers;” uh huh.)

That megawatt trademark smile intact, Couric looked and sounded sharp and it would be hard to imagine her otherwise. She was also best and most engaged when she actually had someone engaging to talk to (Sheryl Crow – you won’t be alarmed to learn – is more interesting and a better interview than Jessica Simpson.)

The show began with a joke – a taped bit that cast the whole “Evening News” affair as a possible nightmare that she had just awoken from (to be reminded by Matt Lauer, in a bed a few feet away, that it “was no dream and the talk show begins now…”) Then, on to a serious note, the host declared,”This is a new beginning for me [and it’s] both exciting and terrifying but life is about new adventures and learning how to handle and embrace changes…”

Pleasantries exchanged with an audience populated with family (including her mom) and friends, Couric settled down with her first guest Jessica Simpson who is world famous but – as far as most of that world is concerned – famous only for being Jessica Simpson. Yeah, they may know some of the Simpson back

story (singer, once married to Nick Lachey, star of reality show). But this segment was strictly for those who knew everything since: The weight struggles, the new baby, and additional weight struggles, the new deal with Weight Watchers that – in fact – is contingent on her actually losing weight…The whole conversation ended up feeling like an extended riff on Weight Watchers, which is another way of saying an extended infomercial.

But mostly it felt like something that a new afternoon talk show airing at 3 p.m. thought it should be doing – based solely on a presumption that the only people available to watch it at this time really do care and care deeply about how many postnatal pounds Jessica Simpson has shed. Is Jessica Simpson the biggest “get” a daytime talk show hosted by a veteran newswoman who once anchored “The CBS Evening News” can land?

Probably – which makes you wonder, or weep, for the future of this new venture. (Up next – Heidi Klum and rumors on the affair with her bodyguard! “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James coming up too!)

Welcome to daytime TV, Katie, but be careful what you wish for because, well….you know the punch line.

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