Katie Couric knows how to set up a camera shot. The veteran broadcaster was working the red carpet last week for a screening at National Geographic headquarters of her new project, a six-part documentary series for the National Geographic Channel called “America Inside Out,” when she effortlessly slipped into production mode.
She directed a reporter to stand to one side of a cameraman shooting video so that both could simultaneously capture her interview. “See, now you have your angle!” she said. And for the still photographers, she struck a now-classic red carpet pose. “I’m doing a Kim Kardashian,” she said, crossing one leg over the other.
Though she’s clearly a seasoned pro, Couric’s latest project, which begins airing at 10 p.m. April 11, is uncommonly ambitious: She spent months traveling the country and interviewing celebrities and politicians — and lots of regular folks — for the series, which aims to go far more in depth than your average TV news segment on some of the most divisive issues of the day, including race, technology and gender inequality.
We snagged a moment with her as she finished the media gantlet to chat about eating her way across America and why it’s time to stop calling her “America’s sweetheart.”
Q: You traveled a lot for this series — was there a place you visited that you thought, “Huh, I never imagined being here”?
A: I went to Storm Lake, Iowa — I never thought I’d go there. We went to Freemont, Nebraska. And I’d never been to Omaha, where my mom grew up and my grandfather was an architect, so it was fun for me to see some of the homes that he designed and built. I didn’t think I’d ever be in Green Bank, West Virginia. And River Falls, Wisconsin.
Q: Sounds like you were quite the road warrior — so, what was the best thing you ate?
A: No one has asked me that! Well, I had tacos in Storm Lake. And I went to a kebab house with [comedian] Aasif Mandvi in South Arlington. … Oh, I had a halal burger in New York, and I’d never had that kind of food before. … I ate Cajun food in the French Quarter with [New Orleans Mayor] Mitch Landrieu — and beignet, which was pretty intense, with a looot of confectioner’s sugar. I had grits in Montgomery, Alabama.
I guess I did eat a lot for this series! We did a lot over food, because it’s a natural place to have a conversation.
Q: You did a segment on smartphone addiction — are you addicted yourself? You have a pretty impressive social media game.
A: I’m very addicted, and I think it’s actually really damaging to our quality of life. My husband now makes me keep the phone outside our bedroom, and I do find I sleep better, even though when I wake up in the middle of the night, I can’t tell what time it is and I don’t want to ask Alexa because I don’t want to wake him up.
When I’m done with this series, it’s something I’m really going to focus on. I’m going to take a vacation from my iPhone, and I’m going to come up with a strategy where I just don’t use it as much. I get to these cities, and they’re new and different places, and I spend so much time looking at my phone that I get to the hotel and realize I haven’t looked at my surroundings.
Q: Your name is practically synonymous with colonoscopies. Is that weird?
A: Some people, when they go to the doctor, and where it says “referred by,” even if they don’t know me, they’ll write my name. Which is funny, but listen, I do feel really proud of my awareness efforts because for every person who makes a joke, there are people whose lives have been saved because they got screened. That’s a good feeling.
Q: You spent so much time with Matt Lauer, and you’re in a position that, sadly, a lot of people are in, where they found out something about a person they thought they knew. What was that process like for you?
A: That’s a much longer question that I don’t want to get into, and I’ll talk to you another time about that. I just feel like right now, that would be a long and complicated answer.
Q: You’re getting into TV producing — not just documentary but scripted projects, too. What do you want to see more of on-screen?
A: Great stories that matter and more female-driven content. I’m involved in a series for Netflix based on a Pulitzer-winning piece by ProPublica called “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” and I’m also involved in a project about Eleanor Roosevelt. So I think things that help put strong, accomplished and interesting women in the forefront are things that really appeal to me.
Q: What do you think of the “America’s sweetheart” moniker? Are you ever like, “I’ve been doing serious work for decades, c’mon.”
A: I think there’s a statute of limitations on that and on “perky.” I think after 40 it’s really hard to claim either.