It’s time for Katie Couric to prepare for the day after Today.
During Wednesday’s show, Couric will say goodbye to Matt, Al, Ann and NBC’s morning audience for the last time. Then she’ll pack up her coffee mug and her smile for the long haul from Rockefeller Center over to West 57th Street, where she will become lead anchor of the CBS Evening News starting Sept. 5.
Everyone from Colin Powell and Bill Clinton to George Clooney and the American Idol crew have taped farewells for Couric (all available to watch on the Today show’s Website), and her last show tomorrow is sure to be chockablock with favorite memories, celeb-studded clips and tearful goodbyes. On a three-hour talkfest where you can be whipping up dessert with the Naked Chef one minute and then discussing allegations of torture at Guantanamo Bay the next, the variety of Couric’s greatest moments is sure to impress.
Couric’s favorite segment, as told to the Washington Post: Barbara Bush was giving her a tour of the White House when President George H.W. Bush walked in, and Couric turned her house tour into a live interview with the Commander in Chief.
After spending 15 years on the top-rated Today, her decision to leave couldn’t have been easy.
“It was an evolution, really,” Couric told the Los Angeles Times recently. “I always would say, ‘Would it kill me if somebody else was doing this instead of me?’ And when my contracts came up, I always thought, ‘I’m just not ready.’ But this last time I was? I do have mixed emotions because I’m going to miss everyone I work with so much. But no matter what happens, I feel really confident that I’ve made the right decision.”
Couric, 49, will be the first woman to officially head up a network evening newscast on her own and, at $15 million a year, will be the highest paid network anchor out there–of any gender.
Since she announced her decision in April, the buzz surrounding Couric’s departure has been on full blast. Everything from the newswoman’s liberal political leanings (“too much like Dan Rather”) to her cheery disposition (“she’s too perky”) has become fodder for critics who either believe that she can’t handle hard news or that her name alone won’t be enough to pull the CBS Evening News out of its perennial third-place position behind the NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight.
But although naysayers have voiced concern over her ability to fill the chair once sat in by Rather and Walter Cronkite, the veteran anchorwoman has said that the trip from a.m. to p.m. will not be too much of a character stretch for her.
“I’ve always been a serious person, actually,” Couric told the Times. “I think it’s sort of a lemming-like reaction and not very informed, because I think if anybody watches the show, they’ll know we do plenty of serious things? To suggest you can’t have fun and you can’t talk about fashion and enjoy it and then do a serious story on welfare reform is just limited in your thinking.”
“I read things with a much more jaundiced eye than I used to because I, from personal experience, have been made aware of the panoply of inaccuracies that go unchecked and unchallenged every day.”
So there, Andy Rooney.
Couric joined Today in 1990 as a national correspondent and began co-anchoring the show (billed as “Katherine Couric”) alongside Bryant Gumbel in 1991 when she was 34. And, as she told the Times, she had no problem telling the news division that she wanted to cover just as many important stories as Gumbel did.
“Can you imagine?” she said. “The gall I had. I’m sure they were probably like, ‘Who is this person? Where does she come from?'”
That stiff upper lip served her unbelievably well when, in 1998, her husband Jay Monahan died of colon cancer. Couric became an advocate for cancer prevention and early detection, going so far as to have her own colonoscopy televised in 2000.
She has credited both her daughters, Elinor and Caroline, and her Today family, whose primary members are Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Ann Curry, with helping her through the hardest of times.
“When you wake up and you feel good and your children and people you love are healthy and you’re in a good situation in terms of a job and being able to care for your family, I think that a little gratitude is called for,” she told USA Today. “You sometimes forget how lucky you are.”
“She filled this role as well as anyone has ever filled this role,” Lauer told the Post. “This job requires a very versatile performer, a little bit like a variety show.”
The View’s Meredith Vieira will become Lauer’s sidekick in September. In turn, Rosie O’Donnell will fill Vieira’s empty seat over at ABC. Lauer signed a five-year, $13 million a year contract shortly after Couric announced she was leaving.
Brainstorming will be the name of the game for Couric this summer, as she starts lining up stories for CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes in July and will be attending production meetings from here on out.
“I’m not going to change who I am or how I relate to people or how I tell stories,” she told the Times. “Because I do some of the lighter stuff and have a sense of humor at times doesn’t mean that I?m not a really serious person, when necessary. So I think it will be a combination of everything that hopefully I have to offer.”
“If CBS had wanted a very classic, standard, straight-up newscast, they might not have come to me,” Couric told Newsday. “But if they want to play with [the format] or slightly retool or maybe slightly re-energize it, then I think I will bring who I am to that venue.”