Katie Couric’s and my Careers

Cover of the book Katie Couric Going There features a photo of a smiling KC

I just finished Katie Couric’s 2021 autobiography, Going There. And I was amazed at how many similar experiences we had in broadcasting and journalism.

I can just hear you. “Oh, sure, Lisa, I’ll bet there were a TON of similarities! She was a top-rated American network TV morning host and you, well, weren’t!”

Yeah, it does seem a little goofy to compare my journey to hers in any possible way. She made $20-million a year. I made…much less. And the eyes of the nation were on her. At the peak of my career, I had a couple of million ears around the GTA! (680 News, Toronto) But bear with me.

Several spots in her career reminded me of the wisdom of programmer Marty Forbes who told me the only difference between big and small markets was the number of zeroes on the budgets.

Same Stuff Different Pile

I’ll give you an example. When Katie arrived at the Today show, Bryant Gumble behaved as if he was the only person who knew how to conduct an interview. I certainly experienced this kind of disrespect from male cohosts in markets outside of Toronto.

But the one I identified with the most was her move to CBS where she anchored the evening news. It was a disaster for many reasons. One, because she didn’t trust her own instincts. Second, because CBS was a stodgy old fart of a network and she was, by comparison, young and fresh. And third, there was no “buy in” from the rest of the staff.

In other words, it was a failure of leadership.

I went through a similar thing at an AM station around the mid-point of my career. My job was to bring a younger, lighter perspective to the morning show. The radio station was full of middle-aged and older men. Most of whom couldn’t stand each other. They went as far as to sabotage each others’ work. And lucky me! I got to share a studio with one of them every morning.

That experiment was doomed to fail. My presence wasn’t just unwanted, I was publicly derided, sometimes live on the air.

So, yeah, I understand KC’s disappointment.

60 Minutes Fiasco

She was also told that she’d be a correspondent on 60 Minutes. The only problem was, no one told 60 Minutes! That program was so full of itself that its braintrust even drove Oprah away. They insisted that she should say her name differently. She tried. It always came out the same. The executives continued to push her. Oprah said, I’m OPRAH – goodbye!

Can you imagine the arrogance of a producer telling Oprah she didn’t say her own name in a “60 Minutes style?”

Katie pitched a segment idea for 60 Minutes: a profile of up and coming star, Lady Gaga. They declined. A year later, Lady Gaga’s name suddenly appeared on the assigment board with Scott Pelley’s name beside it. Katie asked, WTF? That was my idea! Management shrugged and Pelley did the profile. Behind the scenes, this venerable program was (still is?) an old boys’ club that ran like it was 1956.

It Takes One to Know One

The back-stabbing, setting people up for certain failure, telling everyone but THEM that they’re about to get fired – that happens in the big leagues and the small leagues. What went on behind the scenes of Katie’s “failures” would be familiar to any of my broadcasting peers.

Another thing Katie and I have in common – she also likes to burst into song with no notice!

The Elephant in the Other Room

Katie knew nothing of Today cohost Matt Lauer’s penchant for preying on young women. Some ask, how is that possible? But I get it. People can show you the side they want you to see. And then display a completely different side to someone else.

I was never a fan of Lauer’s interview style. I thought he interrupted people too much. He would have someone fascinating on, telling a compelling story, and he wouldn’t let it “breathe.” Part of the job is maintaining the energy of the show but Lauer seemed to butt in just because of his ego. It was annoying.

Katie and Matt aren’t friends anymore. Sometimes the stench of scandal is just too much to bear. If you stay friends with someone who has been so awful, what does that say about you?

I’m currently wrestling with this regarding a former colleague who is only a social media “friend” now. But I recently discovered they’re close to someone who has been just terrible to work with. A bully and backstabber. So, do I unfriend the friend? Or just let it go and ignore it when she mentions the awful person? It’s a conundrum.

Life and Career Ups and Downs

Katie seems comfortable with fame and certainly with fortune. She has lived most of her life in the public eye and paid private prices for that. But she has also used her platform to make society better. America has seen the inside of her colon, as she advanced colon cancer screening rates following the death of her first husband, Jay, at just 42. She did a lot of good things and made a lot of mistakes but recovered from them with transparency and authenticity. I respect that.

I can absolutely identify with making mistakes. But Katie and I could have another connection if someone has a burning desire to put my next colonoscopy on live television. I watched my last one and it was more interesting than I thought it would be. The next screening goes to the highest bidder! Anyone? Anyone!!??

4 thoughts on “Katie Couric’s and my Careers”

  1. I stopped believing in 60 Minutes when Ed Bradley did his interview with Lena Horne. Cut to the B-roll of Ed Bradley walking with Horne HOLDING HANDS. I’ve heard of interviewers who suck up to celebrities, but this was ridiculous.

  2. I was Katie’s first writer on the Today show, when she came up from Washington to read the news. Although we wound up working for different “sides” of the show, if she asked me for a favor, I readily did it. When my wife of 36 years died — of cancer — she was very helpful as I worked to cope. When I retired from NBC after 25 years, she interrupted her schedule at CBS to record a tribute. I was delighted to hear she had found love again, as I had. Lisa, I have never read an account of Katie’s career that is as perfectly accurate as yours. Good work!

    1. Thanks so much for coming by and for taking the time to comment, Andy. I’m sorry about your wife and I’m hoping you are finding some peace in retirement. Thanks again for giving me one degree of separation from Katie! 🙂

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