Meet the Four Talk-Show Hopefuls Trying to Fill the Oprah ‘Void’

New faces of daytime talk: Katie Couric, Jeff Probst, Ricki Lake, Steve Harvey (Photos: ABC, Getty, NBC)

Is there still a “void” in daytime talk?

A lot of people seem to think so, even though it’s been a year-and-a-half since Oprah Winfrey left the daytime scene (way back in May 2011), and in the opinion of many, left that famous void.

The question now is: Will the void (if there is a void) be filled this fall season? Four new talk-show hopefuls will try to fill it or, more to the point, try and capture all or part of the just-under 6 million viewers on average that “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was drawing in its final season.

Of the four new talk-show hopefuls, all are familiar TV faces. But only one of them has a background in daytime talk TV, Ricki Lake — and it’s been eight years since her previous syndicated talk show left the air.

Of the other three, Katie Couric’s the one who’s arguably best-known. And though she’s never hosted her own talk show before, she co-hosted “The Today Show” for 15 years, which more than counts as talk-show experience.

The other two? They’re comedian Steve Harvey, who’s succeeded in every other area of entertainment he’s tried, and Jeff Probst, who’s known only as the “Survivor” host who presides over the tribal councils on the CBS reality show. That makes Probst the dark horse in this fall’s talk-show race.

Let’s take a closer look at these fall talk-show hopefuls:

Katie Couric (Photo: ABC)


Who is she? Only one of the biggest stars on television — 15 years as the darling of NBC’s “Today Show” and then five years as anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” the first woman to have that job on any network. Age: 55.

How is her company, ABC/Disney, positioning her show? “The program will be timely and topical, blending entertainment, information and stories of the day in a format that is engaging, compelling and interesting,” reads a description put out by ABC. “Couric will explore what’s going on in the world, using her personal experience and insight to get to the heart of what matters most to viewers.”

What Katie says about it: “What we’re trying to do is take issues that are in the zeitgeist and affect people’s lives, and dig a little deeper to give people some perspective.” (Associated Press interview)

What she says about Oprah: “When anyone asks me if I’m the new Oprah, I tell them I’m the old Katie.” And, “Oprah did an amazing job, but I’m my own person, with my own life experiences.” (Wall Street Journal interview, 9/5/12)

Her debut on Monday, Sept. 10 (check local listings): Interviews with Jessica Simpson and Sheryl Crow. Later in the week: Tuesday — Flesh-eating virus victim Aimee Copeland; Wednesday — Heidi Klum; Thursday — Two women writers who inspire her; Friday — Jennifer Lopez.

Our take: For reasons we can’t quite put into words, Katie doesn’t seem as universally well-liked these days as she once was back in her “Today Show” heyday. Her show’s success may hinge on whether she can win back her former fans.


Steve Harvey (Photo: NBC)

Who is he? He’s a wildly successful stand-up comedian, nationally known radio personality, the star of his own sitcom (“The Steve Harvey Show” on the old WB), the host of “Family Feud” and recently a best-selling author (“Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man”). He is the consummate entertainer. Age: 55.

How is NBC Universal positioning his show? “Each weekday in his new multi-topic show, Harvey will talk to real people with real issues and bring his funny, fresh, insightful and common sense approach to everyday problems.”

What is he saying about it? “I’m not a doctor or a therapist, but I am an expert on men — I know what makes us tick. So I’m going to bring that male perspective to daytime in the hopes of helping women at home who are wondering ‘what’s up’ with their men,” he said in a statement released by NBC. “When you have regular people and not celebrities on these shows, it’s more relatable,” he told The Chicago Sun Times.

What he says about Oprah: He mentions her only in relation to Chicago, where her show originated, and where his new one is based (in an NBC facility where Jerry Springer once reigned). “In Chicago, the audience here is acclimated — from Phil Donahue who started this thing off, all the way up to the queen herself, Oprah. It’s a great city,” he told The L.A. Times.

His debut last Monday, Sept. 3 (check local listings): Harvey debuted a week earlier than the rest — and had the best premiere ratings of any syndicated talk show since “Dr. Oz” in 2009, according to The Hollywood Reporter. On the inaugural show, Harvey gave dating advice to a man known as the “world’s worst dater.” Scheduled for this week so far: Monday — a woman who raised 47 at-risk teens; Tuesday — breaking the cellphone addiction.

Our take: We are unabashed fans of this guy. And we happen to think that, based on his track record alone, he stands the best chance of all four of these hopefuls of making it to a second season and beyond.

Jeff Probst (Photo: Getty Images)

Who is he? The ruggedly handsome “Survivor” host may be the most intrepid traveler of this season’s talk-show hopefuls, having been on-location for every cycle of the CBS show since its sensational debut in late spring 2000. But the closest thing to a talk show he’s ever hosted were a handful of shows on the old FX — back in the ’90s (Source: Wikipedia). Age: 50.

How is CBS positioning his show? “This dynamic new show covers a wide range of topics, variations on themes from love and relationships to major life changes and adventure,” CBS says. “Jeff’s direct, engaging style and incisive interview skills encourage guests to open up about their lives and share fascinating stories.” (This last remains to be seen, of course.)

What he’s saying about it: “Life is short, at best,” Probst says, in a statement released by CBS. “This show is about challenging viewers to say yes to the adventures in life.” “I think my best skill as an interviewer is the basic one. I really listen. I am absolutely fascinated by people,” Probst told a gathering of TV beat reporters in L.A. last month.

What he says about Oprah: Probst doesn’t seem to have Oprah on his mind; we couldn’t find any interviews where he talked about her, or the famous void she left.

His debut on Monday, Sept. 10 (check local listings): Titled “Guests Who Say ‘YES’ To Life In Incredible Ways,” Probst’s first episode will feature a 32-year-old woman coping with a fatal disease, and a couple in their 90s who got married in a nursing home. Later in the week: Tuesday — a doctor turned singing star; Wednesday — the couple trying to sell the largest private house in America; Thursday — three sisters in their 80s talk about their sex lives; Friday — Morgan Spurlock.

Our take: We have nothing against Probst, but some of these topics in Week One seem a little grim, even though they’re supposed to be inspiring. We look forward to seeing what Probst does with these topics and guests.

Ricki Lake (Photo: Fox TV)

Who is she? Everyone knows Ricki Lake, right? She was the teen-aged star of the original “Hairspray” movie, and then went on to host a daytime talk show at the tender age of 24. She was also a finalist on “Dancing With the Stars.” Now she’s a grown-up mom, and hoping to win new fans and bring back some of her old ones who have become moms themselves. Age: 43.

How is Fox TV positioning her show? “Covering topics that are of interest to the modern day woman, this is a new Ricki — reflecting where she and her audience are now in their lives. Fresh, fun, interesting talk that will cover subjects that range from parenting, weight loss, health, beauty, career, losing love and finding it again.”

What is she saying about it? “I have no doubt that the show will help people,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m not gonna do cheating baby daddies anymore,” she said, referring to her old show, “but we’ll do surviving infidelity, an hour where we talk about real tools people can use.”

What she says about Oprah: “When she was in the audience, running around, had her arm around an audience member, you felt she understood you, related to you, wasn’t on any higher level than you,” Lake told the AP. “And you felt like your voice was heard. That’s the show I’m looking to do.”

Her debut on Monday, Sept. 10 (check local listings): Ricki’s new show starts with a topic you might expect from this movie and TV star who has waged a battle with her weight since she was a teen: “Weight Loss and Body Image with Real Women of All Ages.” Later in the week: Tuesday — a look at “the complicated world of hormones”; Wednesday — tips for using social media; Thursday — female war veterans; Friday — Ricki interviews a 41-year-old virgin (the press release didn’t specify if this virgin is male or female).

Our take: We happen to think that bringing Ricki Lake back to daytime seems like a pretty good idea because her fan base has grown up with her, and many of them may be moms at home taking care of young kids during the day. Sure, talk shows about body-image issues aren’t exactly our cup of tea, but for this group, this kind of thing is what they look for. We give Ricki a cautious thumbs-up.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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