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Duel of the morning talk shows: Couric vs. Palin

Katie Couric, left, co-hosts with George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” on April 2. While Robin Roberts is on vacation, Couric returns to morning television as a guest host. (Lou Rocco/AP)

“I’m Katie Couric — Good Morning America!” the returning Queen of Morning Infotainment TV chirped early Monday morning as she began a week competing against NBC’s “Today,” the show that made her famous.

Katie, who’s getting ready to hit the road promoting the fall launch of her Disney-produced daytime talk show, is spending the week filling in for vacationing Robin Roberts on “GMA,” which is broadcast by Disney-owned ABC.

Over the course of the week, she’s expected to end “Today’s” more-than-16-year run as the weekly morning infotainment program ratings winner.

But Katie’s got her work cut out for her. On Monday alone, the usually non-competitive CBS morning infotainment show had booked the former Queen of Daytime Talk TV, Oprah Winfrey.

And the “Today” show wasn’t going to go down without a fight, telling America on Sunday afternoon that it had booked a “surprise legend” for Monday’s broadcast, triggering much excited speculation.

“Look who’s back in the morning.” That was “GMA” co-host George Stephanopoulos simpering at the top of Monday’s broadcast. Yes, it sure feels good to be on top.

“I’m happy to be here, George. It’s a little strange and I’m a little nervous. . . . I first woke up at 1:15!” Katie responded perkily.

Katie never misses ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” which is a good thing, because for this show she’s been assigned to go behind the scenes.

Katie also got to referee one of those Morning Show Split-Screen Smackdowns, this one between Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace, over the death in early February of two young boys who were axed and burned by their father, Josh Powell, who committed suicide, and who had been a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance two years earlier.

Turns out, Katie said, she never had to ref one of these split-screen talking-head brawls in all her years on “Today,” so she was a little nervous.

She showed them she had brought a whistle and was not afraid to use it.

The infants “died by an ax to the neck! They died of a chop to the neck, Katie!!!” Nancy shrieked.

“I think the blame goes on the people who didn’t charge him” in his wife’s disappearance, Dan countered.

“You’ll have to discuss this during the commercial break,” Katie concluded. “I’m just happy I didn’t have to use my whistle . . . It’s a tragedy and a very upsetting story,” Katie remembered to add.

We’ll break away from Katie for a minute — it’s time to check in with the “Today” show’s “surprise legend,” and Oprah Winfrey’s sit-down with BFF Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.”

“Today” show’s surprise? If you guessed it was Will Ferrell, in character as anchorman Ron Burgundy, come to announce the “Anchorman” sequel flick, as he had already done on Conan O’Brien’s TBS late-night show — which, some might argue, means the announcement was watched by so few people it may not have actually happened — you would be wrong. But, if you guessed former “Today” co-host Meredith Vieira, coming to the show to announce she would “join them in NBC’s Summer Games coverage from London” — you win!

“The reason we wanted to have you back is, we do have what we think is a great announcement. It’s something that’s going to be affecting us and our viewers in the coming months,” “Today” co-host Matt Lauer said, but without any real conviction.

Meredith stuck around while they got Sarah Palin on the phone. Yes, upon learning of Couric’s guest gig on “GMA,” the producers of the “Today” show, the junkyard dog of morning infotainment TV, naturally looked to book someone who would share their interest in taking down Katie. They came up with Palin.

You remember Palin: She’s the vice presidential candidate who got publicly humiliated when Couric asked her on the CBS evening newscast which newspapers she read to stay informed and Palin did not name a single newspaper.

“Today” booked Palin as a “guest co-host” for Tuesday’s broadcast.

“What are you doing to prepare? Are you reading some newspapers?” Lauer asked her.

A round of “ooohhhhhs” is heard.

A little more lively banter later, Palin got serious, telling the “Today” on-air gang, “I really look forward to this. I appreciate NBC’s boldness in having me on,” adding, “doesn’t it kind of reflect the kind of diversity of opinion that I hear that you all espouse?”

“Or desperation,” Meredith mumbled. Tittering is heard in the background.

And, how was Oprah Winfrey doing over on “CBS This Morning,” a couple of days before she’d have to pitch her struggling Oprah Winfrey Network to a few hundred ad execs in Manhattan?

“Had I know that it was this difficult, I might have done something else,” Oprah told co-host King and anchor-in-chief Charlie Rose.

The breaking of actual news seemed to stun Charlie, who’d kicked off the Oprah interview with a kind of “We could spend an hour listing her many accomplishments” intro.

“Really? If you knew that it was going to be this difficult, you might not have done it?” Charlie asked, dumfounded.

“Oh, absolutely,” Oprah assured him.

“But, you didn’t think it was going to be easy,” Gayle cut in to tell Charlie, speaking for Oprah.

“I didn’t think — well, would you let ME answer?” Oprah said to Gayle, with mock exasperation.

“I didn’t think it was going to be easy, but . . . if I knew then what I know now, I might have made different choices,” Oprah clarified, adding that if she were writing a book about the experience, she’d call it “101 Mistakes.”

Rose wanted to hear the Top 5.

Tops of the list was launching before she’d wrapped her syndicated talk show, and before OWN was ready, she said. She did not mention that the launch of the network, a co-venture with Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications, was delayed more than once.

Back to Katie

Let’s head back to “GMA,” where they’re finally ready to show us Katie’s exposé on “Dancing With the Stars.”

“Who do you think is going to win” this season? Katie asked “Dancing” host Tom Bergeron.

“One of these couples — definitely,” he responded. Katie giggled.

Katie told competitor Gladys Knight she misses the Pips. Katie hugged hunky pro dancer Maks Chmerkovskiy. Katie asked celebrity competitor William Levy, a telenovela star who “Dancing” insists is known as Mexico’s Brad Pitt if he is, in fact, known in Mexico as Mexico’s Brad Pitt.

“No,” Levy replied. He’s called “William” or, in a pinch, “Willie,” he said.

Derek Hough was impressed with the dance steps Katie knows. She even taught him one she learned in school – The Pretzel.

Where did the time go? It’s time for George, seated in some futuristic car, to say goodbye to Katie on her first day co-hosting “GMA.”

“I’m going to be out with Sting this morning,” she informed George. “It can’t get much better than this. Thank you, George. I love you, George.”

And, we love you, Katie. Don’t ever leave daytime again.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to



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