Katie Couric is closing in on a deal with ABC for an afternoon talk show
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One of the most high-profile media courtships may soon be consummated: Katie Couric is closing in on a deal with Walt Disney Co.’s ABC to host an afternoon talk show.
Couric, who anchored the CBS Evening News for the last time Thursday night, would begin her new syndicated show in the fall of 2012, according to people familiar with the negotiations who were not authorized to speak publicly about them.
Some of the major deal points have been hammered out, although there are still outstanding issues surrounding compensation. The agreement is not expected to be finalized for at least a week. Couric’s contract with CBS ends June 6.
CBS, which until a few weeks ago had also been vying to distribute Couric’s proposed syndicated show, has the right to match any offer to Couric before her contract ends. The network has not yet waived that right, nor is it expected to make a counteroffer, said these people with knowledge of the situation.
Disney Chief Executive Robert A. Iger has been ‘very involved’ in the deal, the people said. He has been particularly interested in bringing Couric to ABC, in part, to fill the programming void that will be created by the departure of the queen of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey. Disney’s ABC-owned stations carrry ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ which will broadcast its last episode Wednesday.
‘Speculation around Katie is exciting, but there is no new deal to announce,’ said Couric’s spokesman, Matthew Hiltzik.
Joining her in the new venture would be Jeff Zucker, former chief executive of NBC Universal, who started working with Couric in the late 1980s when he was a producer with NBC’s morning show, ‘Today.’ Zucker is credited with building ‘Today’ into a financial and ratings juggernaut, and his and Couric’s career trajectories were closely tied for more than a decade.
The new Couric show is expected to cost about $40 million a year to produce, according to someone with knowledge of the proposed terms. Couric and Zucker would have an opportunity to participate in the profits of the show.
Couric raked in $15 million a year salary at the CBS Evening News, a lofty amount that was criticized at a time when CBS was paring its news operations. Despite the high salary and expectations, she failed to pull the newscast out of third place.
ABC News President Ben Sherwood has also been instrumental in the negotiations, but the ABC News organization’s financial contribution will be relatively small, said another person familiar with the matter. The company’s syndication arm would largely finance the production, which would be sold to other TV station groups.
Couric’s team has long wanted to build a show that would reunite Couric and longtime ‘Today’ show co-host Matt Lauer. There were internal discussions within Disney about whether to postpone the debut until 2013, when Lauer would be available. His NBC contract expires in December 2012.
Inside Disney, the operation to land Couric has been code-named ‘Ginger,’ said a person with the knowledge of the matter. Executives quip about the importance of the pairing, joking that ‘Ginger’ would need its ‘Fred’ for the show to take off.
At a news conference last week after the announcement that Meredith Vieira will be leaving the ‘Today’ show, Lauer did his best to dismiss rumors that he would soon be following Vieira out the door. ‘I have a long-term deal with NBC,’ Lauer said. ‘I’m gonna be here for a while.’
-- Dawn C. Chiemelewksi and Meg James