TV Column: Couric’s case of nerves on her talk show debut

September 10, 2012

Katie Couric’s return to daytime TV began with Katie in bed, having a nightmare. She woke up with a jolt and said to someone in the next twin bed, who was buried under the covers: “Wow! I just had the weirdest dream! I left ‘Today’ to anchor the evening news and did it for five years, and then I dreamed I was going to be hosting my own daytime talk show!”

The other person disentangled himself from the bedclothes. It was — Matt Lauer! Katie’s “Today” show husband! Did you see that one coming? We sure did!

“That wasn’t a dream, and the talk show starts right now,” Matt said.

“It’s a new beginning for me,” Katie told her audience after a commercial break — now out of her jammies and in a sophisticated blue sheath and high heels. “Many of you remember I lost my husband, Jay [Monahan], to colon cancer almost 15 years ago,” Katie continued. That threw our minds back to Katie’s “Today” show Celebrity Colonoscopy lo these many years ago — in which she totally skated over the horror of colonoscopy prep, but for a good cause so we’ll forgive her — and single-handedly caused a spike in the number of colonoscopies that year.

Katie’s daughters are still young — 16 and 21 — and they were in the audience, as was Katie’s mom. “We lost my dad just a little over a year ago. Oh, and yes — I turned 55 this year,” Katie said to kick things off, looking surprisingly nervous. Not Anderson Cooper-nervous, but still, surprisingly nervous for someone who was the queen of morning infotainment TV for 15 years, and who recently looked totally in her element subbing for Robin Roberts on ABC’s infotainment series “Good Morning America” a few weeks back.


Couric also interviewed nine-time Grammy-winning artist Sheryl Crow in her show’s debut episode. (Ida Mae Astute/DISNEY-ABC)

“Woo-hoo!” responded the audience to news of her age.

“And I’m still single, but hope springs eternal,” she said.

Time to bring out the show’s very first guest, Jessica Simpson, to talk about how hard it has been for a girl raised on fishsticks and Mexican food to take off all those pounds after having her first baby, even with the help of a personal trainer and a Weight Watchers coach deeply invested in her success — because Jessica’s been signed as a company spokeswoman.

On Twitter, someone wanted to know how Jessica finds the time to focus on both baby Maxwell and losing weight.

Of course, you and I know the answer is “an expensive personal trainer, a nanny to help look after the baby and a Weight Watchers coach deeply invested in her success because she’s been signed on as a company spokeswoman.”

But Jessica instead went with: “I take [Maxwell] with me. . . . My new goal is 14,000 steps a day — it’s about seven miles. I take her along with me so I don’t have to miss her.”

Jessica told Katie that she had thought when her water broke, all the pregnancy pounds would come off.

With a straight face.

Katie plowed through her list of questions:

●How do you deal with the tabloids?

●Tell me about your relationship with food.

Jessica spoke darkly about having to track every single bite on the Weight Watchers program, and having to give up something called Slutty Brownies, which apparently consist of a layer of cookie dough, a layer of Oreo cookie and a layer of brownie.

Katie has a gift for Jessica.

Jessica has a gift for Katie!

What are the odds!?

Katie unwrapped some cute, black bedazzled shoes from Jessica. Then Katie unwrapped her gift for Jessica. It wa a onesie with the show name “Katie” on the back.

Katie’s second guest on her first day of her new daytime talk show was Sheryl Crow, who wrote the “Katie” show theme song.

Inevitably, talk turned to Crow’s benign brain tumor. Crow says it’s located in her “cellphone area.” Katie felt Sheryl’s head. “It’s the size of my pinky [finger],” Crow said.

Crow talked about her early years as a backup singer for Michael Jackson. “He was like a kid who just didn’t grow, emotionally, past 8 or 10, when he became famous,” she said. But she dodged Katie’s questions about former fiancé Lance Armstrong, who last month said he would not fight allegations that he used banned substances during his cycling career. As a result, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency handed him a lifetime ban and said he would be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Then Katie introduced some pals from her middle-school years, just ‘cause, after which she brought back Crow and Simpson on stage and they stood/danced as the exit music played. The first episode of “Katie” was a wrap.

Ralph Lauren’s ‘Abbey’

After paying homage to — some might say knocking off — “Downton Abbey” with his new fall collection, Ralph Lauren has decided to make sure the show from which he draws his “inspiration” continues into perpetuity: He has become a corporate sponsor of “Downton’s” presenter, PBS’s “Masterpiece.”

When Lauren unveiled his fall collection, the takeaway of the Telegraph’s fashion writer was that Lauren was clearly one of “Downton’s” biggest fans.

Vogue, meanwhile, noted that as the curtain went up on the show, to the strains of the “Downton” theme song, “All of a sudden, the entire audience was transported, misty-eyed, to watching PBS at 9 a.m. on a Sunday night, not the Ralph Lauren show at 10:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning.”

In becoming a corporate sponsor of “Masterpiece,” Ralph Lauren has joined Viking Cruise Lines.

The franchise is now “sold out” for corporate sponsorship, for the first time since the heady ExxonMobil days, “Masterpiece” exec producer Rebecca Eaton told the TV Column on Monday. (Masterpiece Trust, the venue for individual donations to the series, is still open for business, she hastened to add.)

It’s the first television sponsorship for Ralph Lauren Corp.; the company’s first on-air sponsorship messages will begin Sept. 30 with the broadcast of “Upstairs Downstairs.” (Fall “Masterpiece” titles also include new episodes of the Kenneth Branagh cop drama “Wallander,” and the third season of “Downton Abbey,” which begins in January.)

Eaton told the TV Column the relationship will not affect the kind of programming that PBS commissions for “Masterpiece.” “It is the kind of programming we’ve always done,” she said.

“My theory is that beautiful clothes have always been the unsung heroines of every period drama we’ve done,” Eaton continued. “Sometimes people watch [the programs] for the plot, the actors, the locations, or the frocks. This is so who we are — it is not going to change anything about how we choose programs. My sense is [Lauren] was a fan long before ‘Downton,’ which makes sense, considering his taste.”

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/tvblog.

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