Going There, Katie Couric’s book about her professional and personal life, is a fast-moving, entertaining and, at times, illuminating book about finding success in the television business.
The book details Couric getting her start at WTVJ Miami, moving on to CNN, then working at WRC Washington, and NBC News.
Couric spent 15 years co-anchoring Today, then shifted to anchor CBS Evening News. A short-lived daytime show followed, then her work at Yahoo News.
“I’ve loved every second of being on TV,” Couric wrote. “And yet, it has a way of squeezing you down to a shape and size designed to fit comfortably in the nation’s living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. In other words, the box can put you in a box; the flat-screen can flatten. On TV, you are larger than life but somehow smaller, too, a neatly cropped version of who you are. Real life--the complications and contradictions, the messy parts--remains outside the frame.”
Couric chronicles her highs and lows in television. After an appearance on CNN, known as Chicken Noodle News in the early days, then-president Reese Schonfeld said he never wanted to see the young Couric on TV again.
While at NBC News, she gets to know Tim Russert, who becomes a pivotal figure in her career, tapping Couric to handle the Pentagon beat. From there, she moves on to be a news reader on Today.
She describes meeting Jeff Zucker for the first time: “In my new role, I’d need a very capable producer. The network suggested a whippersnapper named Jeff Zucker. At just 25, he had already made a name for himself as an NBC researcher at the Seoul Olympics, where he prepared thick binders of background and trivia for Jane [Pauley] and Bob Costas. Jane became Jeff’s champion, guiding him toward a writer-producer gig at Today.
“He showed up to meet me in a gray sweatshirt--the kind you’d wear in high school gym class--and lace-up Keds. Why is he wearing girls’ tennis shoes? I wondered. Beneath a mop of frizzy brown hair, he screamed nerd, but he also seemed a little cocky, especially for someone so young. Well, this is going to be interesting, I thought.”
She describes Zucker as what would happen if Edward R. Murrow and P.T. Barnum had a baby. Many years later, Zucker comes on board on Couric’s daytime show, Katie.
As Katie struggled to find its voice, Page Six had numerous reports on Zucker being considered for the top job at CNN. She suspected Zucker was planting the Page Six stories, and confronted him about it. He denied sharing with the New York Post.
She wrote, “As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t say what I knew to be true: You’re lying.”
Over time, Matt Lauer enters her life. “There was a guy doing Today in New York we were all checking out,” she wrote. He seemed to be a natural at the chummy, unscripted back-and forth. And he was good-looking, with a rakish smile and a nice head of hair. At a certain point, everyone was talking about Matt Lauer.
“Whatever it is, Matt had it--that ability to reach through the screen and make people watch.”
Years after departing Today, and a few weeks before Lauer was fired for sexual misconduct, Couric enjoyed dinner on the Upper East Side with him. She shares the text messages between the two before and after the dinner, and others she’d sent Lauer after he was fired. “I am crushed,” one read. “I love you and care about you deeply. I am here.”
Couric also touches on misconduct over at CBS, involving Leslie Moonves and Jeff Fager. She singles out Fager for impeding her at 60 Minutes when Couric was at CBS News. “I think a lot about the onion that was 60 Minutes,” Couric wrote. “The whole experience is a huge source of disappointment to this day. Whenever I hear that ticking stopwatch on TV, I wince, remembering Don Hewitt saying I was the future of the show--until I wasn’t.”
The book serves as a front-row seat to American history from the past few decades, including a look at the Rodney King beating, Columbine, September 11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, MeToo and the rise of Donald Trump.
Couric offers plenty of details outside of work. Cancer has a significant presence in Going There. Couric lost her sister Emily to cancer, and her husband Jay as well, prompting her to undergo her famous on-air colonoscopy. She writes of her husband’s death in 1998:
“I don’t know how long I was sitting in the empty waiting room in my Gap sweatshirt and jeans, barely able to breath, before a doctor walked in. I knew what he was going to say. All I remember is ‘I’m sorry.’ I felt like my spirit had left my body too.”
Years later, her second husband, John, battles the disease too.
Near the end of the book, Couric examines late husband Jay’s infatuation with Confederate history. Jay took part in Civil War reenactments, and Couric takes a hard look at what fueled his passion for the Confederacy.
Couric also details the challenge of being a mother amidst her professional travails, and is open about dating after Jay’s death.
She never did reach the same level of success after moving on from Today, a job that made the most of both her hard-nosed reporter and chatty host attributes. She writes after Katie ended following season two, “Finding somewhere you can put your multidimensional self on display is tough. I don’t think I fully realized at the time just how unique the Today show was--the only place I could comfortably converse with the Senate majority leader and the Teletubbies on the same morning.”
She describes how viewers, and the press, have very different standards for men and women on TV. She writes, “Women were expected to be warm, friendly, nurturing. Meanwhile, to make it professionally, you have to be assertive, competitive, decisive--so-called mail traits. When a woman dares to exhibit those traits by pushing her team to perform, demanding excellence and being ambitious for herself, it’s seen as scarily norm-busting. Her punishment? She’s called a ballbuster, an ice queen, or, in my case, a diva. (I find it curious that there’s no male equivalent for that word). Apparently, friendly and warm don’t track with strong and competent. You’re one or the other. You’re either the cute girl who does features or the serious one who covers the Pentagon. You’re either Katie or Katherine.”
Going There weighs in at just over 500 pages, but it moves quickly. Chapters are just a few pages apiece--there are 99 of them. Couric’s prose is smooth and fun. She provides an intriguing look at what it takes to make it in television, and what it takes to make it in television as a woman.
Going There offers plenty of both Katie and Katherine, and it makes for a fun and insightful read.
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