Why Did Katie Couric Sign With ABC?

With Katie Couric’s “CBS Evening News” contract about to expire, the sprightly anchor was being courted by all the major networks, despite her turn on CBS (NYSE:CBS) being less successful than the network had hoped. However, with Oprah saying adieu to daytime television and Couric hoping to have her own syndicated afternoon talk show, the networks were betting on Couric’s celebrity as the factor most likely to replicate Oprah’s success.

CBS hoped to keep the lovely Katie, NBC (NYSE:GE) hoped to win her back, even CNN (NYSE:TWX) was getting in on the action, but ultimately it was ABC (NYSE:DIS) that came out victorious. While Couric will be getting her talk show, what really clinched it for ABC was that they would allow her to simultaneously work in the news division  as a host, something CBS wouldn’t allow. The talk show will premiere in September 2012, and to hear Couric describe it, will resemble “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in every way but one: its host. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Couric described her hopes for the show:

I think we’d like the show to be topical and to really capture the zeitgeist of what people are talking about. It will be serious at times, obviously informative and fun. Really, a mixture of things we hope people will be interested in. It’s not going to be a news show, but we’ll be talking about the news and issues that I think people care about, whether it’s bullying or the effect technology has on our kids. It might be a profile of a navy seal after Osama Bin Laden has been killed; it might talk about women in the military and some of the stresses they experience in reentry with their families.

The show might ultimately be a bit more “newsy” than Oprah, maybe more of a fusion between Oprah and the “Today” show, but still a daytime talk show on a major network — so really, not that different. And like Oprah, Couric will be very involved in the direction of her show. Not only will she have a say on content, but she will be co-owner of the show and receive a share of the profits, which could be anywhere from $100-300 million, potentially earning Couric tens of millions of dollars a year. Not bad. And even before Couric met with network executives, she’d already decided that Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of NBC (NYSE:GE) (NASDAQ:CMCSA) who worked with Couric on the “Today” show, would be a full partner in the project no matter what network she settled with.