Even since Oprah Winfrey ventured off the daytime TV circuit, the talk show world has been a bit blah. Sure you have Ellen DeGeneres dancing her way to ratings success, and a couple other hosts maintaining a solid reputation, but no one has yet to reach the pop culture icon status that Oprah has. And perhaps no one will, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. Two serious contenders have entered the field in Steve Harvey and Katie Couric, but do they have what it takes to hit it big in the talk show world?
Both will debut their respective shows in Ms. Winfrey’s hallowed 3pm time-slot, which has remained unoccupied since May 2011, when her show ended. Couric and Harvey are both optimistic on their odds of achieving Oprah-like success, with Couric even going so far as to acknowledge the opportunity derived from her absence. “With Oprah exiting the stage, it was okay for me to give some time for the landscape to settle before jumping into the fray. So I feel the timing worked really well for me,” she explained at a recent press event for her show.
Becoming a daytime talk host seems like an obvious transition for Couric, who struggled to achieve high ratings as anchor of CBS Evening News. As “America’s sweetheart” newscaster, the serious journalist behind a desk persona just didn’t resonate for her.
On Katie, Couric will get the opportunity to not only flex her journalistic chops, but also display her highly likeable personality that once catapulted her to success. She’s also pairing up with her old Today Show colleague Jeff Zucker, who is producing her show. He’s a seasoned vet who can help Couric find her rhythm in the daytime talk world. Her old fans will undoubtedly tune in, but what’s her capacity for reaching an audience as broad and diverse as the one Oprah once commanded?
To this, I’d have to say Steve Harvey has the advantage. Oprah blessed Harvey with her presence back when she was still daytime Queen by having the comic appear on her show to promote his best-selling relationship advice book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though the book was already successful, Oprah’s influence exposed the book (and subsequently Harvey’s signature grinning mug and wit) to her broad and powerful audience, and no doubt played a part in getting the book translated onto the big screen. Think Like a Man was a far-fetched movie concept that actually surprised everyone by becoming a huge box office success, even despite Harvey’s odd omnipresent appearances in the film (a vehicle to raise his profile no doubt, which, annoyingly, worked).
He’s even taping his show in Chicago — perhaps the city will bring him the same fortune it brought Oprah.
With Oprah’s blessing, and his fan base from his radio show and Family Feud hosting gig, Harvey has a real shot at making it big in the daytime talk world. But my guess is neither Couric nor Harvey will lay claim to Oprah’s old audience and subsequent success. Fact is, what Oprah had was an anomaly that’s hard to replicate. Likeable, respected, relatable, accessible… all characteristics that various TV personalities have to varying degrees, but in not quite the balance that Oprah has.
Success is definitely in the cards for both Couric and Harvey. In the least, Couric will command the middle-aged female demographic in the flyover states, and Harvey will sweep the black and minority audience (including some men). The two are formidable enough to divvy up the pie Oprah left, but neither have the skills to win over her audience completely to become daytime queen (or king).
Follow Kia Miakka Natisse on Twitter at @miakka_natisse