BY TOM MCALLISTER
This post is part 11 in an ongoing series of reviews of syndicated daytime TV shows by Barrelhouse editor Tom McAllister.
Basically everything you need to know about Katie is summed up by this December Deadline article:
“Katie also has been struggling with its identity, with Couric, who also serves as exec producer, reportedly pushing for newsmaking interviews and more serious journalistic approach normally reserved for in-depth news programs like 60 Minutes as opposed to daytime TV’s conventional emphasis on lighter fare and celebrities.”
Compared to its competitors—including The Steve Harvey Show, which has a significant lead in important 25-54 year old female demo—this show is like a graduate seminar. Katie Couric is smart and professional and remarkably well-prepared considering the low stakes of this genre. She does obvious research before interviews and asks complex questions, and then you know what she does? She listens to the answers.
In the five episodes I watched, I could feel the tug-of-war between her and the production team. An episode would bounce from a forty-minute investigation of the rising costs of college to a way-too-long segment on some stupid prank show on TruTV, or from an in-depth discussion of the challenges of being an Empty Nester to nine minutes of advertorial for some luxury travel company. Because she is a professional, Katie was well-prepared for the more trivial segments, even when they involved gossiping about Brad and Angelina’s holiday plans.
Still, the balance is about 70/30 in favor of serious content, and it tends to more depth and nuance than any other daytime show I’ve watched. It treats its audience like they are adults capable of maintaining more than one complex thought at a time. Relatively few segments are transparent advertisements for mediocre products that nobody cares about. None of the episodes I watched spent any time trying to make women feel badly about their bodies or scare them into buying anti-aging products.
So obviously, Katie has been canceled.
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I don’t know what else to say about that fact; the conclusions seem so obvious that it warrants no discussion. An effort to bring intelligent discussion to daytime TV was roundly rejected in favor of a show that features regular segments called Swagger 101, in which a stand-up comedian gives dating advice to nerds.
I don’t want to pretend Katie was exhilarating TV; it could get dry, and sometimes I had flashbacks to being ten years old at a restaurant with my family dinner, listening to endless conversation and just hoping, hoping my dad wouldn’t order a refill on his coffee because more coffee meant another twenty minutes, at least, of important-sounding but dull conversation I had to endure.
Now, in hindsight, I value those character-building dinners for teaching me how to conduct myself in adult conversation, how to look interested, how to listen to people. But in the moment? I just wanted no more coffee ever. And in the moment this week, I found my attention fading during several of the more mature Katie segments.
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So what is there to say about a decent, well-made and mature show that is nonetheless not particularly exciting to watch?
I experimented with a lot of different angles in putting this together but couldn’t find a way to develop any of them beyond a paragraph. But so the only thing I have to offer is a quick rundown of rejected post ideas, so I can clear out my notes file and also so maybe you can get a sense of what I’m trying to figure out here.
REJECTED IDEA #1: Is it possible to develop a show that’s smart enough to intellectually challenge viewers but light and entertaining enough to be palatable to the traditional daytime audience? At first an idea that seems promising, but I feel like a) that’s been the thrust of this whole series, and b) the content of every show I’ve watched so far offers a very clear answer to that question. Daytime TV is determined to be stupid and light and unchallenging, and so as much as it pains me, I have to evaluate it on its own diminished terms.
REJECTED IDEA #2: The many ways in which I hate ABC’s What Would You Do?, a hidden camera show in which actors do terrible things and then viewers judge the innocent bystanders for not intervening when, say, a “nanny” gives cough medicine to a child to quiet her down. WWYD?, featured extensively in one of the lesser episodes of Katie, is smug, fear-mongering nonsense that exists only to give its audience the cheap thrill of feeling morally superior in response to contrived situations. It presents itself like it’s a serious anthropological experiment with Important Things To Say About The World, but really it’s pandering to the tsk-tsking grandmother in all of us.
REJECTED IDEA #3: Hey guys, do you remember Murphy Brown? I loved Murphy Brown when I was an unpopular kid who spent most of his days reading TV Guide and watching syndicated sitcoms, and even though I didn’t get most of the jokes I’ve seen every episode several times. Katie C. also loves Murphy Brown for more obvious professional reasons, and so she hosted a 25th anniversary reunion of the cast, which was nice but completely uneventful. Also, hey guys, do you remember that Dan Quayle thing? Jesus Christ. If only our culture wars these days could be so quaint.
REJECTED IDEA #4: Maybe I could write some fiction about what’s happening in the photo above, something about Katie peeling away her human skin and turning herself inside out before returning to her home planet. But that seems too self-indulgent even for this project.
REJECTED IDEA #5: Actress Debi Mazar and her husband—some guy with a name—have now appeared on two different shows I’ve watched during this survey of daytime TV, promoting their cookbook or reality show or something. Believe it or not, they are the first repeat guests I’ve seen. Over the past month, I’ve been hoping to see the same person pop up on four or five different shows (i.e., when Adam Sandler emerged from his fortress made of farts to appear on Live! with Kelly and Michael, I thought it would be great to find him on two other shows that day) because it seemed like an easy post idea to compare/contrast their various appearances. This one might still happen. Will continue to monitor this situation.
REJECTED IDEA #6: Exactly as it appears in my notes: “why are there so many fucking cooking segments on everything, and when did real life turn into Pinterest, and why should this make me mad?”
REJECTED IDEA #7: Hey guys, have you noticed how weird internet commenters are? Because I’ve been checking and they are weird. In the narrow context of this project, I can tell you the weirdest thing they do is go to the websites of the various shows and comment on the video clips as if they’re writing directly to the host of the show. So on the website for Katie, you will find a number of comments directly addressing Couric herself. My favorite is this masterpiece of (harmless) internet craziness:
"Katie. I requested to be your co-host; however, I haven't heard anything. You need to introduce me to John Quinones. I did and I was done! I reported my manager at the U.S. Postal Service for extorting cash from my co-worker and for stealing money from our employer. Then my job of 22 years and my pension were bamboozled from me. Please help me to be able to contact John Quinones. Also, please look for enthusiastic me on the new Eyewitness News/Good Morning America commercials."
But also, if you check that Deadline link from the opening paragraph, you’ll see a number of commenters who seem to hold a personal grudge against Couric because her show replaced All My Children and One Life to Live, and so their reaction to the news of the cancellation is an odd mix of spite and optimism, in that they seem to think the All My Children team is just sitting around waiting for a chance to get back on TV.
I frequently visit the websites of these shows in search of background information or to double-check videos to make sure I’m accurately representing them. Every video page has a section for comments, because I guess we need to be able to comment on everything at all times. But the weird thing is, on these sites people frequently seem to be under the impression that the host him or herself is reading them. Attempts to disabuse them of this notion are futile. A representative sampling (all sic):
“Millions of fans want the shows back. We’ll see what happens.”
“Listen jerk its a number game what is the ROI”
“If that could happen It would be the best news ever..Loved both OLTL and AMC and it was a huge mistake to cancel them..Evn a half hour would be better than never seeing them again”
“I appreciate a lot about Katie Couric but she is not “of the people” the way Oprah was.
Katie was subletting the common touch. Ultimately her vanity is what alienated her from the female daytime audience, she was styled within an inch of her life, anytime she could showcase her “guns” or gams she would and did”
And my favorite:
“AMEN! There is a God!!! Thanks Santa for this wonderful Christmas present.
Not only bring back All My Children & One Life to Live, please bring back the “whole” network the way it was before which means bringing back Inside Edition at 2 PM in my market! This does means either dumping The Chew or moving it but my soaps are more important.
And not only am I happy this show is canceled, it will mean I won’t see her repeats at 1 AM also! It was holding up WNN-World News Network which used to start at 1 AM and go until 4 AM.
For her $16 million paycheck, Katie sure bombed big!!!”
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In the end, Katie tried to be better than its time slot and it never stood a chance. There’s really nothing else to say.
Next week: Judge shows!
Tom McAllister is the Barrelhouse Non-fiction Editor. His memoir, "Bury Me in My Jersey," was published in 2010, and his shorter work has appeared in FiveChapters, Black Warrior Review, elimae, and some other places. He has a novel forthcoming from Algonquin in Spring 2016. He co-hosts the Book Fight podcast and you can find him on twitter @t_mcallister.