If "perk" is what you find in bulldozers on construction sites and tanks on the battlefield, then, yeah, Sarah Palin was right to call Katie Couric perky.
Otherwise, Katie Couric, on her new daytime talk show Monday afternoon (Ch. 7, 4 p.m.) was a woman on a mission, and Lord help anything that got in her way.
She is daytime TV's newest Archbishop of Oprahism. And, no, she doesn't have a chance of being American culture's newest Oprah, but it was obvious from her first hour of afternoon talk that the former "Today" show queen and "CBS Evening News" anchor has the best chance of bringing America something of what it lost when Oprah Winfrey decided to retire from the syndicated TV grind.
Let the journalistas smugly gloat about how the mighty have fallen, about how yawning is the distance between interviewing heads of state and Jessica Simpson on "Katie." When you're in the running for New Oprah, you've actually got a shot at influencing American culture in a way that no newsman - not even Uncle Walter (Cronkite) - ever did.
Let's get real. Without Oprah, there'd have been no Obama. Without Oprah's Book Club, American culture is very different.
Oprah's show is like the phantom limb that isn't there anymore - still felt, long after its amputation. On her OWN network, Oprah may float the occasional paper airplane through the transom with an info tidbit on it - you know, Rihanna still talks to Chris Brown and thinks about him, despite his once pummeling her in the front seat of a car. But Oprah, the pontiff of Oprahism, just isn't there to help America lead its best life.
Enter Katie Couric, along with Ricki Lake and - Are you ready? - Jeff Probst to the afternoon talk wars. After watching two hours of uplift and inspiration as well as credos and invocations in the religion of "Leading Your Best Life" on "Katie" and "The Jeff Probst Show," I was ready to watch people hurl chairs at each other on Jerry Springer. and howl in fury when the blood test came back on "Maury" and they discovered the building super to be the real father of little Jimmy.
"Katie" began with a nice little joke about Matt Lauer, in a sleep mask, as her professional "Husband," reassuring her that the last few years weren't all a dream. Then came a quick audience shot of Couric's two kids and the show's first "meat" -a half-hour infomercial for Weight Watchers in the form of an interview with Jessica Simpson.
Not that it wasn't personal, mind you. Katie confessed to daytime America that Liz Josefsberg, Simpson's Weight Watchers guru in changing her relationship to the "Culture of Food," has also been Couric's own Weight Watchers adviser in worrisome days of avoirdupois past.
So now, on Simpson's "journey to lose weight," she repeated, in her own words, the Credo of Oprahism: "I just want to be a better version of myself."
Which, of course, will get you to "live your best life."
And, in Couric's case, of course, that helped her land Target as one of her show's sponsors.
What's your biggest lesson? Couric asked Simpson. "Be kind to yourself," she replied.
Then she gave Couric a present - a pair of sequined black pumps.
Couric gave Simpson a T-shirt for her daughter, Baby Maxwell and a "you go, girl" video bit of encouragement from Simpson's idol Dolly Parton.
Then it was Couric's pal Sheryl Crow's turn to open up to her buddy Katie for the first time about her benign brain tumor, to mourn the summertime juicy revelations for her ex-boyfriend Lance Armstrong and react revealingly to a sexy film clip of her in duet performance with Michael Jackson.Onstage, Jackson was virtually into heavy petting. Offstage, said Crow, "he was like a kid. He didn't grow up entirely past 8 or 10."
One local plastic surgery commercial later for those audience members in search for a physical better self, Couric engagingly introduced some old buddies from junior high in Virginia, all of whom seemed to have entirely untouched faces that didn't compare to the gleaming youthfulness of their 55-year old classmate.
Give Couric credit. She admitted her age on the show. And her nerves. She was scared, but she'd shaved her legs for the occasion and made sure, as any good mother ought to, that she'd "peed" right before the show.
After all those years on "Today," she knows how to be a human being on camera.Today, her show will delve into the story of a woman who suffered grievously from flesh-eating bacteria. On Wednesday, she'll ask Heidi Klum if she was indeed "fornicating with the help" as her soon-to-be ex Seal has charged. And then later in the week she'll have Jennifer Lopez, the author of "50 Shades of Grey" and Amanda Knox.
Look up high and you can see the white smoke. Oprahism has a new pope.
Meanwhile, a couple of hours earlier on Buffalo TV (Ch. 23, 2 p.m.) "Survivor" host Probst became the newest convert to Oprahism in the afternoon by telling us about three people who said "I'm in" to life: a beautiful woman - a former teacher/gymnast/trapeze performer - with shaved head who began with cervical cancer and has been told her cancer is now incurable; an 8-year old who began with a lemonade stand and has raised $50,000 to end slavery in Nepal and around the world; and a couple in their 90s who, two weeks after meeting in a retirement home, got engaged to be married.
To cancer survivor Kelly Pozzoli, who will return to the show often "to let us be in on her journey," according to Probst, he asked, "Is it weird to get applause for saying how you want to live your life?" ("I'm gonna go out in style.")
Considering that Probst, on "Survivor" is more known for offering people a choice between worm salad or a dried beetle taco, you can't deny the power of TV's afternoon religion of inspiration and uplift.
Let's admit that you'd have to be inhuman and more than a little monstrous not to be impressed with the array of exceptional human beings that were presented to us Monday on the premieres of "Katie" and "The Jeff Probst Show." The trouble is that very real human beings are one thing and afternoon TV's religion of uplift, inspiration and "Living your best self" is quite another.
It seems like bullying if the life you're leading is just barely good enough on some days, even with your best efforts.
It isn't that Probst doesn't have a Couric-like nose for the dark side. Even he probably knows that the best part of his interview with the cancer survivor was her admission that with such an uncertain future, she's had to rethink her marriage to her military husband, now in Germany after serving in Afghanistan.
There's nothing heartwarming about divorce, that's for sure, even if she became convinced it was her best life.
"Katie" may not be Couric's best life. And "The Jeff Probst Show" may not be Probst's. But if you think I'm going to say they'll never be, you're crazy.
'Katie' - from high priestess of perkiness to Oprah's heir
On a mission to humanize herself, Couric debuts on daytime talk in a crowd that includes, yep, Jeff Probst
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