She may have admitted feeling "a little nervous" in her first moments on ABC's Good Morning America Monday, but Katie Couric didn't take long to settle into her weeklong guest co-hosting gig — kicking off one of the most surprising morning show wars in recent history.
The announcement last week that Couric would be filling in for a vacationing Robin Roberts on GMA seemed to blindside rivals at NBC's Today show, who responded by hurriedly booking conservative political star Sarah Palin as guest host for this morning.
In a way, Couric's move made all kinds of sense; she has a new daytime talk show debuting on ABC stations Sept. 10, and has been popping up on the network's programs since leaving CBS News late last year.
But this is really about avoiding — or causing — an embarrassing headline.
Because NBC's Today has dominated ratings as the top network morning show for the past 16 years. And with the shows closer than ever in ratings, a weeklong stop by Couric — returning briefly to mornings after leaving Today in 2006 — might be enough to snap the streak.
That's why Today loaded up with 11th-hour surprises for this week, including a visit Monday by former host Meredith Vieira (billed as a mystery guest), a surprise announcement this morning by Ryan Seacrest and an interview by cell phone with Palin, who was still flying into Manhattan from Alaska.
"How nervous should you all be for having me?" the former Alaska governor cracked.
Host Matt Lauer retorted by asking "Are you reading some newspapers?" — a cheeky reference to Palin's inability to name the papers she reads when Couric interviewed her during the 2008 presidential campaign.
On ABC, Couric twirled with castmembers from ABC's Dancing with the Stars, joked about waking up at 1 a.m. and refereed a dust-up between legal pundits Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace — all while flashing her megawatt smile and assuring fans she was just filling in for Roberts.
The fight is so compelling, you might have overlooked a little-known celebrity known as Oprah Winfrey, who unfortunately picked Monday to visit pal Gayle King on CBS This Morning and admit her new cable channel OWN is floundering.
"Had I known it would be this difficult, I might have done something else," Winfrey said about the cable channel, which one analyst expects to lose $142 million this year.
Maybe she should come back and see Gayle next week for our full attention.
Because there's a much better fight brewing on ABC and NBC. And it's just getting started.