Monday, June 06, 2011

Katie Couric heads to the Mouse House

After flopping out at CBS, Katie Couric is looking to shine at ABC.

In a deal announced today, The Walt Disney Company has signed the former Today and CBS Evening News personality to a multi-year, multi-platform deal, which includes a daily syndicated talk show and beginning this summer, a regular contributor to ABC News. Ms. Couric departed as anchor of The CBS Evening News after just four years on May 19 (60 Minutes' Scott Pelley becomes the new anchor of the newscast as of today.)

The untitled syndicated talk show has been already been cleared on ABC's eight owned stations, including 23 percent of the country, with WLS Chicago; WABC New York City; KABC in Los Angeles; WPVI Philadelphia; KGO San Francisco; KTRK Houston; WTVD Realeigh, N.C.; and KFSN in Fresno with all clearing the show at 3 p.m. But in a rather unusual move, ABC is giving its affiliates - all 220+ - the 3 p.m ET/2 p.m CT time slot back to purchase and launch the show in syndication - if they choose to do so.  Former NBC executive Jeff Zucker will serve as executive producer on the show.

While the series replaces General Hospital at 3 p.m. in Eastern Time Zone markets, Couric will replace existing syndicated fare in others, including Chicago, where CBS Television Distribution's Inside Edition and Jeopardy! are currently running in the time slot Couric is headed. It is not known where these two shows will end up on WLS' schedule. Also unknown is the fate of General Hospital - the soap is the last remaining one on ABC's daytime schedule. Next season, ABC is cancelling All My Children and One Life To Live and replacing them with lifestyle series The Chew and The Revolution, respectively.

It's a major coup for Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution. Founded in 1985 as Buena Vista Television - the syndicated arm of Walt Disney was created to sell Wonderful World of Disney reruns, Siskel & Ebert, and the animated Disney Afternoon block among other shows, this represents an opportunity to do something the company hasn't done since the launch of Live With Regis & Kathie Lee: launch a second successful daytime syndicated talk show, something it wasn't not successful with. Danny Bonaduce, Wayne Brady, Tony Danza, and Iyanla Vanzant are among the hosts Buena Vista has tried and failed with over the years (not to mention Stephanie Miller and Keenan Ivory Wayans as late-night talkers.)

In 2007, Buena Vista was renamed Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution.

Currently, Disney-ABC has a bare-bones syndicated schedule with only two first-run shows next season: Live! With Regis & Kelly (Regis Phillbin is exiting the program in November) and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire; and just a handful of off-network shows and movie packages (by comparison, CBS Television Distribution has more than ten series in first-run and over fifty off-network series.) Last season, Disney-ABC canceled first-run weekly hour Legend of the Seeker after two seasons after Tribune Broadcasting passed on renewing the series for a third, and canceled At The Movies (once known as Siskel & Ebert, Ebert & Roeper, etc.) after a 24-year run last August.

But a syndicated Katie Couric talk show would immediately raise Disney-ABC's stock in syndication.

The only other time ABC returned any afternoon time slot back to its affiliates was on December 31, 1984 when the network returned the 4 p.m. (ET) time slot following the cancellation of The Edge of Night, which broadcasted its final episode three days earlier after a 28-year run - nine of them on ABC.

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