EXCLUSIVE: Couric Talker Looking Likely for 2012

A syndicated talk show featuring Katie Couric is looking increasingly likely for fall 2012.

Couric's $15 million annual contract to anchor the CBS Evening News expires this June, and sources close to the anchor say she's become more serious about launching a multi-platform production company and syndicated talk show as she's further explored the opportunity. Couric and her advisors believe that should she decide to launch a talk show in 2012, she needs to exit the CBS Evening News when her contract is up, prior to the 2012 presidential election, to prepare for that launch.

Among Couric's advisors is Ed Wilson -- the founder and former president of NBC Domestic Television Distribution. Wilson, an old friend of Couric's, is working with Couric and former boss Jeff Zucker on the vagaries of launching a syndicated talk show and associated production company. Wilson did not return calls for comment.

Wilson has been working with Team Couric for a while, according to sources. Retaining Wilson makes sense due to his long history in syndication. In 2000, he launched NBC's distribution arm, then called NBC Enterprises. Prior to that, he sold shows such as Everybody Loves Raymond for CBS Enterprises, after selling his own syndication company, MaXaM, to CBS in 1996. In 2004, Wilson left NBC to become president of the Fox Television Network. He was named president of Tribune Broadcasting in February 2008, and left Tribune last April.

Wilson tried to lure Couric into syndication in 2003, but Couric wasn't ready to take the leap, so Wilson instead launched a show starring another NBC news personality, Jane Pauley. Pauley's show only lasted one season, but most syndicated executives think that if anyone has a shot to make it big in daytime, it's Couric, whose daytime appeal on NBC's Today show is well known.

The most likely candidates for a Couric talker are the anchor's current home, CBS, and her former home, NBC.

Several sources say that new NBC CEO Steve Burke is interested in bringing Couric back to the network, where she could have a talk show on the NBC owned stations as well as appear on NBC's news networks. The NBC stations are probably the best home for a talk show featuring Couric. Even though she's been at CBS since 2006, her brand is still associated with NBC, and NBC's stations are in need of strong new daytime fare.

"We do not comment on development," said an NBC spokeswoman.

NBC will only pick up a talk show starring Couric if the company can maintain exclusive production and distribution rights, say sources, although some involved believe that the struggling NBC stations need Couric enough that NBC could be convinced to take the show even if it ends up being distributed by another company. The CBS stations -- with successful fare like Dr. Phil and Judge Judy -- have less room for Couric, but could possibly juggle to accommodate a show. The ABC stations are replacing Oprah with news expansions, locally-produced programs and Sony's Dr. Oz, but ABC could have room in 2012 if those programs don't perform as well as hoped. Another variable is the performance of Warner Bros.' Anderson, which launches this fall.

ABC also could replace CTD's Rachael Ray, whose contract ends in 2012, with Couric. Ray occupies two prime pieces of station real estate: the post-Live with Regis and Kelly on two ABC powerhouses, WABC New York and WPVI Philadelphia.

Couric is not a good fit for Tribune, with its daytime slate of conflict talkers, and any talk show starring Couric would likely be too expensive for Fox.

Other syndicators and outlets also have expressed interest in talking to Couric, but CBS and NBC appear to be her strongest options. Couric wants to work with a company that can offer her cross-platform opportunities, such as CBS, NBC or possibly Warner Bros., although that distributor appears to be a long-shot. In any case, having NBC and others in the mix should only help Couric increase her value and negotiating leverage.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.