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The TV Column: Couric’s morning tour to talk about exits — er, essays

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“I think I love to be my authentic self. And I think it served me well through the years,” Katie Couric told Erica Hill on Tuesday on CBS’s infotainment program “The Early Show.”

Couric, the “CBS Evening News” anchor, will be in heavy rotation on morning infotainment TV for the next couple of days, amid a flurry of media reports that her departure from CBS’s evening newscast is a virtual certainty, as well as speculation about her possible talk-show future.

Couric is ostensibly doing a round of interviews to plug her compilation book of essays from famous people, “The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives.” But what everyone wants to hear is her talk about exiting the network’s evening news franchise; whether she’s going to do a syndicated talk show; whether a potential talk show would involve “Today” co-host Matt Lauer; and what she thinks of CBS News chief Jeff Fager’s plans to replace her on the “Evening News” with “60 Minutes” veteran Scott Pelley.

Lauer is also said to be mulling over an exit from his show, but not until the end of his contract late next year.

“You’ve got a lot of changes coming in your life, as we know, your contract is up at CBS,” Hill said in her Couric interview, taking a stab at a segue into the topic that has been the subject of obsessive media speculation.

“But as you go down this road, figuring out what the next step is for you — wherever it may be — is there anything in this book that really stood out to you as advice to help you make that decision?” Hill added sweetly.

“I think, sort of just listening to your inner self,” Couric replied. “I think a lot of people talk about that. And also, [Olympic ice skater] Michelle Kwan talked about learning to get up when you fall.”

Couric added quickly: “I don’t feel like I’ve fallen. But the importance of being persistent and continuing on a path and being true to what really makes you happy, finding your passion.”

She circled back, remembering she was on a CBS show: “But I love my job. And I really found a lot of satisfaction doing the ‘Evening News,’ and I’m really proud of the team and all we’ve accomplished.”

Couric concluded smoothly by saying, “So I don’t want to say that I’m not proud of this chapter in my life either, speaking of books.”

“One of the things people love about you is you’re a fantastic journalist but you are such an approachable, real person,” Hill gushed, before ending the segment.

No real questions answered here.

Couric is No. 1 on this month’s Newspeople Most Expected to Leave Their Jobs list — a list that includes not only Lauer, but also “Today” matron and Lauer co-host Meredith Vieira.

On Tuesday morning, in addition to her “Early Show” appearance, Couric visited ABC’s “The View” to promote the book and coyly answer all career questions.

“Well, I am more than a little familiar with the microscope that Katie Couric has been under for the past five years, as anchor of the ‘CBS Evening News,’ ” Babs Walters said Tuesday morning on “The View.”

Oh, you didn’t know all Babs interviews on “The View” are about Babs? Yes, she — not Katie — was the first woman to host a broadcast evening newscast, except that Babs co-hosted, with Harry Reasoner, in the late ’70s.

Babs, who was sitting next to “The View” referee Whoopi Goldberg, mentioned the title of Katie’s new book, emphasizing the “Extraordinary Lives” bit, adding proudly, “Whoopi’s in it — I’m in it.”

Really, there’s no one like Babs.

“Did you mind when I used to say I could relate to you, that you were a younger version of me?” cooed Babs, as Katie was getting settled on the sofa.

Babs mentioned Pelley, who has been the “CBS Evening News” heir apparent for some time, and wondered whether Katie would finally confirm she’s leaving.

“No,” responded Katie, adding: “First of all, I don’t think it’s [the] place to do that.”

“I respect you wanting to make news on ‘The View,’ ” Katie said firmly, promising that when she does make a decision, “I’ll come back.”

Eventually, “The View” hosts remembered she was there to plug the book, proceeds of which are going to a scholarship fund. Babs wanted to read her own submission. So she did. It ended with some gag about not sleeping with the boss.

“Well, Chelsea Handler gave the same advice,” Katie snarked. Handler, of course, famously was hooked up with the head of Comcast’s networks (this was in the pre-NBC Universal purchase era), which included E!, at which Handler has her late-night show.

We think Katie won that round.

But both her “Early Show” chat and her visit to kiss the ring on Walters’s show were mere windups for The Big Event on Wednesday. That’s when Couric is scheduled to appear on “Today.”

A “Today” rep told the TV Column on Tuesday that the show still had not decided whether Lauer or Vieira would interview Couric.

Pairing Couric up with Lauer on the show would present its own particular set of problems, given reports that Couric’s and Lauer’s camps have chatted about the possibility of reuniting for a new talk show.

The “Today” rep did confirm that both Lauer and Vieira will be working on the show Wednesday, which means three in all — we think it’s the highest concentration of on-air talent with one foot out the door to appear on the same program in TV history.

The price of Oprah

Oprah Winfrey: better than “Lost,” but not quite as good as “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Advertisers will have to cough up $1 million for a 30-second ad on the swan song of Oprah Winfrey’s syndicated talk show — this according to Brad Adgate, research senior VP of Horizon Media.

That’s more expensive than when ABC’s “Lost” mercifully came to an end last May — a 30-second spot for the intensely weird drama’s ending cost $900,000. CBS’s family comedy “Everybody Loves Raymond,” however, raked in $1.2 million for each 30-second ad in 2005, WaPo TeamTV’s Emily Yahr reports.

And before you wonder how Ray Romano commanded so many ad dollars, consider that the 1998 “Seinfeld”-finale 30-second spot ran for $1.4 million, and that the “Friends” series end in 2004 bested everyone, costing $2 million per 30-second ad.

Oh, and also the fact that “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is a daytime series, which makes the comparison with the above prime-time shows all the more impressive.

The finale of Oprah’s show — details of which are being kept a closely guarded secret — airs May 25.

As Oprah wraps up her decades-long tenure as the queen of daytime talk, President and Michelle Obama will be among her guests, her production company announced Tuesday. The taped appearance is scheduled to air May 2.

Larry’s lessons in reality

Hollywood TV types got together Tuesday in Beverly Hills to be entertained by a panel of some of the heaviest hitters working in reality TV today, including Thom Beers of “Deadliest Catch” fame; “Undercover Boss” executive producer Stephen Lambert; “American Idol” exec producer Nigel Lythgoe; “Biggest Loser” exec producer J.D. Roth; and Sally Ann Salsano, who executive-produces “Jersey Shore.”

But the main attraction was Larry King, the longtime CNN show anchor who’s been everywhere since departing the cable news network: anchoring a new talk show from the rafters of Conan O’Brien’s TBS late-night show, turning up at the TV academy to talk to the ladies of “Hot in Cleveland,” promoting a new bagel shop in downtown Beverly Hills, plugging breath mints and even returning to CNN to be interviewed by his replacement, Piers Morgan, about Elizabeth Taylor.

Watching Larry King moderate a panel about reality TV was like watching a babe in toyland.

“What makes your show a success?” Larry asked Thom.

“A lot of eyeballs,” Thom guessed.

“What makes ‘Jersey Shore’ a success?” Larry wondered.

Once Larry gets pointed in a direction, he likes to stay pointed.

Sally Ann told Larry it was a success because the cast members do what they do and don’t apologize for it, apparently deciding that he wasn’t ready to hear about “Gym. Tan. Laundry.”

Larry next wondered made “Undercover Boss” a big hit.

Stephen said that all it took was getting the first episode scheduled to air immediately after the Super Bowl. And because, in these troubled times, the very act of an employer saying “thank you” to his employees “is moving,” Stephen said.

Yet it still weighed on Larry’s mind that, week after week, employees of a company are getting punked by their bosses, who pose as newbie hires, only to reveal themselves as the Big Cheese at the very end of each episode.

Why, Larry wondered, don’t the employees wonder “what the hell the camera crew is doing there?”

“I’m not too swift, but I would think that if the boss of CNN were talking to me, and I didn’t know who he was, and 16 cameras were there, I’d think something was up,” Larry determined.

“Yeah, but you’re quite smart,” Stephen explained.

“So the secret to your show: dumb?” Larry asked.

Larry didn’t come right out and ask Nigel why “Idol” is America’s most popular television program — instead he asked Nigel whether “being crazy yourself” helps be a successful reality TV producer and he tried to engage the guy in conversation about Major Bowes and his late 1930s “Amateur Hour” and Frank Sinatra — but that didn’t stop Nigel from weighing in.

“Idol,” Nigel announced, is America’s Social Glue.

With all the terrible things going on the world, Nigel noted, “What is everyone talking about: ‘How did Pia get voted off?’ ”

“This thing is on everyone’s mind. . . . When a television program becomes a social glue, that’s power!” Nigel gloated.

Larry wondered where J.D. finds his overweight people for “Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Makeover; Weight Loss Edition.”

“They’re not hard to find outside of L.A.,” J.D. explained patiently. “It’s probably harder to find someone who can sing.”

“Do you drive down the street and find someone who’s poor?” Larry wondered.

Eventually, J.D. came to the conclusion that Larry maybe thought he was also the guy behind “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” He’s not.

So the hour zipped by, Larry discovering the wonders of reality TV:

1. Reality programming costs less than scripted.

2. Reality TV is not going away.

Larry also wanted to know which reality show had pleased each panelist most, and which reality show they most wished they’d made.

J.D., for instance, admitted he take his eyes off “Hoarders,” because, he said, it’s so astounding how the producers can “make them normal again in three days.”

Sally Ann, meanwhile, is obsessed with “Sister Wives,” because the polygamist guy is married to multiple women, but drives a two-seater car and has this whole “your night’s tonight!” approach to his relationship with his spouses — which, Sally Ann said, makes her nuts.

And before we knew it, our time with Larry was over.

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