Desperately seeking Katie

Is Katie Couric going to be the next Oprah Winfrey? A lot of people in Hollywood seem to think so, and the Today anchor is meeting with top studio and syndication executives about hosting her own daytime talk show that could launch as early as fall 2002.

Couric, whose contract with NBC News ends in May 2002, may just be attempting to drive up her long-term value at NBC, but the morning star is being seriously wooed by nearly everyone in the business to join the daytime talk ranks.

Insiders say Couric has been discussing the move for several months with potential syndication suitors, including NBC Enterprise, her home network's syndication division. The money being thrown at Couric rivals that of Winfrey's mega-million-dollar pact with King World. Couric could make anywhere from $20 million to $30 million a year, insiders say. In almost any scenario, Couric would likely get an ownership stake in the vehicle.

"Everybody wants her. Who wouldn't want her?" asks one top syndication executive who is among those "desperately seeking" Katie. "She can come on and do an amazing show. There just aren't that many people out there. She can totally relate to that woman out there."

Fox, DreamWorks, Paramount/King World, NBC, Carsey-Werner, Columbia TriStar and Warner Bros. are all said to be chasing Couric.

DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg, News. Corp. President Peter Chernin and other top brass have broken bread with the Today star over the past several months.

NBC has an exclusive 30-day renewal window with Couric after her contract ends in the summer of 2002. If she were to pass on an NBC offer, Couric could accept bids from outside studios, and NBC would have 90 days to match. "That makes doing a talk show in the fall of 2002 pretty hard to do," says one insider. "The earliest a show could probably get up and running would be January 2003."

The studio most actively courting Couric, sources say, is Warner Bros. Domestic Television, which could lose its daytime talk show with Rosie O'Donnell after the 2001-02 season. Top Warner Bros. executives have met with Couric and her representatives at AMG, Michael Ovitz' Hollywood talent agency. Sources say Warner Bros. could use co-owned CNN's news resources to put journalistic impact into a show.

"She's one of those people who I think are multi-talented," Rosie O'Donnell said of Couric on Access Hollywood. O'Donnell said her show "is good real estate in daytime TV, very valuable. A lot of people would benefit from it, and I hope she gets it."

NBC Enterprises wants her, too, but that's a touchy subject because the syndication arm doesn't want to appear to be tampering with the network's hot property. Still, Couric's relationship with former Today Executive producer and new NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker could help. "Jeff and Katie have a very, very unique and terrific friendship."

There are a couple of other scenarios playing out, as well. Couric has been linked romantically to Tom Werner of studio Carsey-Werner-Mandabach. In one scenario, DreamWorks, which doesn't have a syndication division, would produce the show, and Carsey-Werner would handle distribution. Both studios had no comment. As for Columbia TriStar, its link to Couric is Ovitz. The Sony-owned studio is co-financing Ovitz' new TV venture, ATG.