July 15, 2024

For Couric, ABC’s Pitch Proved Best

Ms. Couric, who was seeking a new direction in her career in the form of a syndicated afternoon talk show while also maintaining a continuing role in a network news division, arrived a short time later with her agent, Alan Berger.

They had requested a meeting “off the radar,” because they knew how closely Ms. Couric’s future was being tracked. Her contract as anchor of “CBS Evening News” had only four months to run.

As they walked in, both Ms. Couric and Mr. Berger were struck by how unsettled the NBC team appeared. They soon learned why.

The NBC executives had just bumped into Al Gore, the former vice president, who was there to announce the hiring of Keith Olbermann for his cable channel, Current TV.

Mr. Olbermann, the one-time star of MSNBC, had left the network acrimoniously just two weeks earlier, and he and the Current retinue were in the meeting room directly next to the one NBC had rented for the Couric negotiations.

“It was awkward,” a senior NBC executive said.

NBC had hoped for better luck with Ms. Couric. But although the Couric team said it believed the network had made a strong effort to woo her, including use of an elaborate Power Point presentation of the virtues of its syndication proposal and a video urging Ms. Couric to “come home to NBC,” the effort foundered.

Instead, Ms. Couric, in one of television’s worst-kept secrets, is set to announce on Monday that she will sign with ABC, which was not even a serious contender the morning she slipped into the St. Regis.

The negotiations over Ms. Couric’s future in television unfolded over the last few months and involved three of the four broadcast networks, as well as CNN. They also featured top media executives including Mr. Burke, Robert Iger of Disney, Leslie Moonves of CBS and Jeff Bewkes of Time Warner. Perhaps unexpectedly, because Ms. Couric had not succeeded in stemming the long ratings descent at “The CBS Evening News,” she remained something of a hot property.

At a time when Oprah Winfrey, syndicated television’s biggest star, has just left the stage, the courtship of Ms. Couric suggested that the networks, looking to cash in on the enormous revenue potential of syndication, were still willing to make a big bet on stars — even ones like Ms. Couric who have taken their share of blows in the media.

The details of Ms. Couric’s impending deal with ABC have not been disclosed, but as co-owner of the show Ms. Couric will claim a share of the profits. Syndication has such a great financial upside because successful shows make money from both station fees and advertising revenue — and they are generally inexpensive to produce.

One of the chief negotiators in pursuit of Ms. Couric, speaking anonymously last week because of the confidential nature of the talks, said, “We all know what we’re looking at with a successful syndicated show — $100 million to $300 million a year” in revenue. As host and co-owner, Ms. Couric’s own take each year could be tens of millions of dollars.

For years, Ms. Couric deflected efforts to interest her in a syndicated show. “But looking at the landscape, I thought it would be a good time for a show like this,” she said in an interview by phone. “It just gives me a lot of creative freedom and allows me to be me.”

One reason it made more sense now was because the dominant star of daytime talk, Ms. Winfrey, has left the arena. “I never wanted to compete with her,” Ms. Couric said, “because no one could.”

The Couric group was seeking a situation that would get her back to discussing a range of subjects as she had while on the “Today” show, where by all accounts she had more fun.

From the start, Ms. Couric made clear that her full partner in the syndicated show, both on the production and business side, would be Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of NBC, who wanted to make his return to television in a control room as executive producer of the talk show. That was his role on “Today,” when he and Ms. Couric, along with Matt Lauer, steered the NBC program to ratings dominance that continues unabated.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d7e0870f2ce1f8eb0850c86833d15ec2

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