Katie Couric's New Show Gets Best Daytime Debut Ratings Since 'Dr. Phil'

Now for the Harder Part: Winning in a Tough Environment

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Katie Couric won't suffer the same fate as Jane Pauley -- at least, not yet.

Katie Couric and Jessica Simpson on the first 'Katie'
Katie Couric and Jessica Simpson on the first 'Katie'

Ms. Couric, the former CBS News anchor and "Today" show co-host, is off to an eyebrow-raising start with her new much-anticipated talk show. The program's distributor, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, said Tuesday morning that the fledgling program tied the ratings of the most-watched daytime talk-show debut in the past decade. That opener, for "Dr. Phil," launched in September 2002. A total of 25 talk shows have arrived since then.

"Katie" debuted on Monday with a 2.8 household rating in the 56 U.S. metered markets, trumping the recent debuts of "Steve Harvey," "Jeff Probst" and "Ricki Lake." Disney also said the launch of "Katie" topped the second-season debut of "Anderson," featuring CNN host Anderson Cooper. Disney said "Katie" ranked first or second in its time period in each of the top 15 U.S. markets, including No. 1 finishes in the top two markets, New York and Los Angeles.

The rating is preliminary and may change when official nationwide numbers come out.

In the competitive landscape of daytime talk shows, the news is welcome for Ms. Couric. She is testing her hand in a new venue after leading CBS News's daily newscast for several years, growing frustrated at how the program's traditional format didn't suit her particular talents. Ms. Couric came to fame at "Today," where her perky demeanor and aplomb while handling interviews both soft and hard won her a wide following.

The bar is high in daytime, the piece of the schedule where Oprah Winfrey held sway for years. Now that Ms. Winfrey has ended her talk show, Ms. Couric (and ABC, which benefited for years from "Oprah" running on its stations) would no doubt love to take her place. To do so, she'll have to do battle with Ellen DeGeneres, keep audiences rooted to stations' daytime lineups and keep her program on consumers' lips.

And she will have to do these things in a venue that can be harsh even to popular personalities. Jane Pauley, another popular "Today" host who tried daytime TV after leaving the NBC program, found it to be tough going. Her show, which launched in 2004, lasted just one season.

An appearance by starlet Jessica Simpson on the debut of "Katie" Monday is already prompting some questions about product placement on the new talk show. Ms. Simpson is the focus of a new ad campaign from Weight Watchers that debuted Monday as well. Several segments on Monday's "Katie" featured not only Ms. Simpson, but her Weight Watchers coach and the debut of Ms. Simpson's new Weight Watchers ad.

"If today's long-awaited debut of Katie Couric's syndicated talk show resembled an infomercial for Weight Watchers, that 's because it was," cracked TVNewser columnist Gail Shister, a veteran watcher of the TV industry.

"Weight Watchers did not purchase any sort of ad support for this premiere show," company spokesman Matthew R. Bautista told Ad Age via email. "Jessica's appearance was strictly editorial."

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