Chef Emeril Lagasse judges George Stephanopoulos and Katie Couric’s s creations on Good Morning America. (Ida Mae Astute/ABC)

“Today” beat Katie Couric on Monday in her return to morning infotainment TV on “Good Morning America.”

Monday’s “Today” averaged 4.9 million viewers. “GMA,” featuring the highly hyped return of former “Today” sweetheart Couric, attracted just under half a million fewer viewers. The two shows’ season-to-date gap is 528,000 viewers.

Monday is “Today’s” most-watched day of the week this season. Tuesday and Wednesdays — the mornings after “Dancing With the Stars” broadcasts — are the big mornings for “GMA” this season.

Couric is co-anchoring “GMA” all this week while Robin Roberts takes a vacation. Couric’s also getting ready to launch her syndicated daytime talk show in the fall; it’s being exec-produced by her former “Today” exec producer and distributed by ABC parent Disney.

After “GMA” announced its week-long Couric booking, “Today” promoted some big “gets” for the same week. Monday’s promised to be a “surprise legend.” It turned out to be NBC News correspondent Meredith Vieira, who announced that she would participate in NBC’s coverage of the Summer Games in London.

NBC noted Tuesday that rival “GMA” enjoyed bigger ratings two Mondays ago than it did this past Monday with Couric.

This is true: Two Mondays ago, “GMA” averaged 4.97 million viewers. That Monday, “GMA” beat “Today.”

Sarah Palin

On her second day of “Good Morning America” co-anchoring, Katie faced even stiffer competition — “Today” had lined up Sarah Palin to co-anchor, for the 8 a.m. hour, anyway.

Actually, Palin didn’t co-anchor so much as appear in every scene while Matt Lauer and Ann Curry co-anchored. The point here is that Palin, dressed in “Johnny Cash” — her description — to work the Rockefeller Center crowd that gathers around the “Today” gang when it goes outside, reminded viewers that she’s a “Mama Grizzly” and that she favors potluck and caribou on the grill to mini-cupcakes. She made that remark during Ann’s interview with pregnant Tori Spelling about mini-cupcakes, jam-covered brie wheels and crafting. She also advised Oprah Winfrey that if she wants to attract more viewers to her OWN network she needs to “book more . . . patriots.”

Meanwhile Lauer, in the midst of drawn-out contract negotiations with NBC parent Kabletown, er, Comcast, and apparently unhappy that Palin had been imposed on him, tried to defend the postage-stamp-size integrity left to news guys who anchor morning infotainment shows by taking whacks at Palin.

After welcoming her to the “lamestream media” he asked her if she thought whoever becomes the GOP presidential candidate should pick a running mate with as little experience “on the national battlefield” as she had when she was Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008. During a camera shot of Palin using his dressing room, he told viewers that she’d taken the room without his permission.

(The day before, when Matt and the rest of the “Today” gang spoke to Palin by phone about her Tuesday guest gig, he asked her pointedly if she planned to read any newspapers to prepare for the day.)

And, as the clock ran out on her hour, Matt finished it up with:

“We’re enjoying the last couple of minutes with guest host Governor Sarah Palin. . . . So, how have you enjoyed being part of the lamestream media?”

“Orchestrated chaos,” she responded, dodging the question. “If everything is under control, you’re going too slow,” she continued, adding that “it’s been a great morning.”

Matt pointed out that she had planned to wear something other than the black pants, black shirt and studded belt she wore on the show.

“I didn’t want to go all Johnny Cash on you,” Palin said, but, according to her, she made a wardrobe change when she discovered the “pink jacket from the consignment shop” she had planned to wear Tuesday was the same one she’d worn four years ago when Matt interviewed her.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

President Obama will deliver an introduction when the USA network telecasts “To Kill a Mockingbird” at 8 p.m. Saturday, the network announced Tuesday.

Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the film tells the story of lawyer Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck, and his struggle for justice in the small fictional town of Maycomb, Ala., in the 1930s.

“With its bold portrayal of racial injustice and strong message of tolerance, fairness and honor, the movie still resonates with audiences today,” USA noted.

The basic cable network said its telecast of the 1962 flick underscores its commitment to its public service campaign “to combat hate and discrimination, and promote greater understanding and acceptance.”

In 1995, the Library of Congress selected “To Kill a Mockingbird” for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The telecast marks the first national broadcast of the digitally remastered film from Universal Pictures, which, like USA, is owned by NBC Universal, which, in turn is owned by Comcast.

Lee said Tuesday that she’s honored that Obama will introduce the telecast, adding, “I’m proud to know that Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch lives on, in a world that needs him now more than ever.”

Letterman’s contract

CBS has extended David Letterman’s contract through 2014, ensuring he will become the longest-running late-night talk-show host in TV history.

By the end of the contract, Letterman, who has helmed a late-night franchise on NBC or CBS since 1982, will have surpassed Johnny Carson’s record of 30 years in late-night TV.

The contract of “Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson, whose CBS show is produced by Letterman’s Worldwide Pants, has also been extended through 2014.

Letterman’s late-night journey started in ’82 with NBC’s “Late Night.” When he was passed over for the “Tonight Show” job in favor of Jay Leno, Dave ditched the network for CBS and launched “Late Show” in 1993.

Harris and the Tonys

Neil Patrick Harris, the guy who can host pretty much anything, is returning to host CBS’s broadcast of the Tony Awards in June. Harris, star of CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” hosted in 2009 and last year, to solid reviews.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to