October 29, 1999
Katie Couric, co-anchor of NBC's "Today Show," recently spoke with media correspondent Terence Smith about the increasing popularity of morning news shows. The following are extended excerpts from the interview.
TERENCE SMITH: Let's talk about the morning and why it's this sudden opportunity for three networks to perhaps boost their news divisions a bit.
KATIE COURIC: Well, I've got one word why, and that's "money." The morning is an extremely lucrative time slot for network television and of course, if it's making money, everybody wants a slice of that pie. So, obviously it's gotten more competitive. All three networks have always had a morning show but now cable of course is taking some of that audience away and a variety of other things, probably the Internet as well. So I think that you'll see network executives -- or you're seeing them -- be more aggressive when it comes to the morning shows.
|Changes in viewing habits|
TERENCE SMITH: In an era when the networks are in fact losing their share of the television audience to all the other channels, the morning segment, particularly the "Today Show," is gaining audience. Why?
KATIE COURIC: I think some of it is attributed to the fact that people's lifestyles are changing. That studies have shown that more people are getting up earlier, they're getting their news earlier. They're getting less sleep, getting up at earlier hours. So I think that that's probably the most important reason.
I also that think there might also be an almost sociological explanation.
And that is, in an increasingly fragmented society -- I'm getting a
little bit esoteric here -- people like routine, people like familiarity.
And they like being able to turn on the television day in and day out
to see someone that they know and they feel comfortable with and trust
hopefully and respect even. And I think there is a certain comfort level
and sort of sense of familiarity that comes with the morning program.
I think you get to know the people on the shows better than you do in
any other format, because the audience sees us in so many different
situations. They see us interacting with people, they see us doing serious
interviews, they see us having fun, and when you're conversing with
someone, you get a much clearer impression of who that person is than
if they are just reading into a news piece. So I think there is some
of that, too.
KATIE COURIC: Well, I think we've seen dramatic changes in viewing habits just in the morning, and conversely, at night, that fewer people turn on Walter or Huntley and Brinkley -- obviously they can't turn on those anymore -- but they don't sit at the dinner table anymore.
TERENCE SMITH: The anchors have changed, Katie.
KATIE COURIC: Yes, I know. (Laughs). Thank you, Terry. Yes, welcome
to 1999. Sorry Tom,
|A three-ring circus|
TERENCE SMITH: So for all these reasons, the network news divisions are really putting resources, money, talent, et cetera, new studios. They are producing, in a way, three clones of themselves.
KATIE COURIC: A three-ring circus.
TERENCE SMITH: A three-ring circus, or clones, if you like, of the "Today" Show. It's sort of perverse, isn't it?
KATIE COURIC: Perverse? Perverse. No. Predictable, yes. There's no
... I think it's not surprising
TERENCE SMITH: Steve Friedman says that beginning next Monday it's war. Is it war?
KATIE COURIC: It's television. I hardly would describe it as war. I like Steve a lot but he's -- there's a lot of bravado there and I think that's part of the game part of sort of battle this through soundbites or quotes in newspaper articles. I think that good programming serves us all well. It gives people more choices. It makes us all try harder. And the competitive juices start flowing. You know, if it's a war, I'm not a soldier in it. I wish them well. I wish ABC well. And I've always -- the competition is one aspect of the job, but I think if you're too busy worrying about the competition, you don't focus enough on what you're doing. At least for me personally, I've always tried to do a really good job every day, with each interview, and treat each interview seriously, and make the person I'm speaking with feel comfortable, hopefully make it an ideal experience. Unless they're a cagey politician, in which case then I hope to make it a miserable experience. So I don't really focus too much on that, and I think it's dangerous if your goal in life is to get the other guy, then you're not going to be doing a really quality job yourself.
|The booking wars|
|TERENCE SMITH: What is your take, briefly, on the booking
wars that are certain to take place among three competitive shows. The
question is whether shows make deals with high-profile guests, be they
newsmakers or entertainment people. What do you think about that? Is there
anything wrong with it?
KATIE COURIC: I think deal making is very dangerous in this business because you can be held hostage by a movie company, a publicist, an actor or an actress, an author, who wants maximum airtime but it gets into the editorial decision making where it's inappropriate. You're doing eight parts on a movie that frankly ain't very good or doesn't deserve that much national airtime. This is an incredible thing, to be able to give someone even five or six minutes of a national venue, if you will, to talk about things that are really important. And I don't think it should be necessarily wasted, on people who don't deserve it, frankly. Now having said that, you know, I feel really proud that the "Today" Show has taken a step back and said, "You know, we really think that there should be three parts." And there have been circumstances where someone will say, "Well, we're going to a another network then." And you know what, that's OK. Jeff Zucker has been very principled about it, and the chips will fall where they may. But hopefully they'll respect -- that's our job, to determine those kinds of issues. They're job is to sell a product. But that doesn't mean you need to give them 45 minutes of airtime on national television to do so.
TERENCE SMITH: To use your word "dangerous," deal making is dangerous, is it more dangerous with public figures, with politicians, with newsmakers, rather than entertainment figures?
KATIE COURIC: I think it happens quite rarely, honestly, with public figures and politicians.
TERENCE SMITH: Has it happened to you, when someone has said, "I'll come on and do an interview with you, Katie, but don't ask me about A or B."
KATIE COURIC: We never agree to those kinds of ground rules. Absolutely, positively not.
TERENCE SMITH: They do ask?
KATIE COURIC: Not directly to me, but certainly, yes, in the past we've
had a variety of people saying "I don't wish to discuss Mike."
Now, we just don't do that. Now, if they're there to talk about something
specifically, and I determine through my own editorial judgment, that
another area isn't germane, or isn't an important part of it, that's
something else. But we never agree to anything in advance, absolutely
KATIE COURIC: Da da da da.
TERENCE SMITH: What do you have planned? I know you have a special guest.
KATIE COURIC: Well, we have a lot of special guests. We have a lot of special things that we're going to do next week, but you know what, Terry, we're special every day. We've got a lot of really good guests slated, and really interesting interviews.
TERENCE SMITH: In the last few days your former colleague Bryant Gumbel has taken a few cuts at you in the press. Anything you'd like to say to him as next Monday approaches?
KATIE COURIC: You know, Bryant and I had a lot of fun working together. I think he's really good at what he does and I wish him all the best.
TERENCE SMITH: A gracious lady to her toes.
KATIE COURIC: Thanks, Terry.