Why Katie Couric May Not Become Queen of Daytime Either

Tuning In: Daytime Success Isn't Any More Certain, Even for a Famous Anchor

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Katie Couric
Katie Couric Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS

We all recognize Katie Couric was a success on NBC's "Today." What remains unknown is whether she has the stuff to conquer tomorrow.

Ms. Couric's departure from the evening-news anchor chair at CBS News, which she finally confirmed yesterday, seemed a foregone conclusion almost from the moment she first sat in it, back in September 2006. Publications including The Wall Street Journal and New York magazine have been trumpeting signs of trouble since 2008, in the process helping the star newswoman probe for new opportunities. "One possible new job for Ms. Couric: succeeding Larry King at Time Warner Inc.'s CNN," said The Journal, which won kudos for (incorrectly, as things turned out) reporting Ms. Couric and CBS would part ways just halfway into her five-year, estimated $15 millon-per-year contract.

Now speculation has Ms. Couric seeking to enter the daytime arena. While she was queen of the morning at one time in her career, however, that's no guarantee she'll be empress of the afternoon. In fact, one might say that Katie Couric's future, which would have been assured had she and CBS News been more compatible, is more up in the air now than at any other time in her career.

Yes, it's true, the soon-to-depart Oprah Winfrey leaves plenty of room for a new champion in the time slot. ABC stations and CBS, which air and syndicate Ms. Winfrey's program, respectively, would love to get their hands on a new hot property. Add to this Regis Philbin's impending retirement, ABC's recent decision to follow CBS in the gradual winnowing down of its venerable soap operas and Martha Stewart's recent (and, apparently, ill-advised) move to Hallmark Channel, and the daytime slots on broadcast would seem to be in dire need of fresh talent.

At the same time, never have daytime TV viewers had so many different options. Don't forget that Rosie O' Donnell is starting up a daytime talk show over at Discovery's Oprah Winfrey Network. CNN's Anderson Cooper is making a stab at a daytime show. Ellen Degeneres's Time Warner program is nothing to sneeze at. And for every eyebrow-raising interview one would expect Ms. Couric to land, there are dozens of breaking-news alerts on the cable-news channels. In short, she has just as much competition -- if not more -- during the daytime cycle as she did in the evening-news anchor seat.

So the breathlessness surrounding her CBS News departure ought to cease. To succeed next, she'll need a good plan and a point of distinction. Her "Today" berth is several years behind her. And familiar news anchors in syndicated daytime roles are pretty common. Remember "The Jane Pauley Show"?

Rumors that she may team with former NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker add a sense of drama to the proceedings, but there's no denying Katie Couric faces the same business challenges in the field as anyone else trying to win a time slot that has seen its audience eroded and fractured over these last several years.

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Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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