The announcement Monday that former CBS anchor Katie Couric had completed a deal with ABC to develop and host a syndicated talk show in 2012 was no surprise — media reporters have been writing about the negotiations for weeks.
But ABC's revelation that eight of its owned and operated stations would air Couric's show at 3 p.m. caused a bit of a stir. Because, in much of the country, that time slot is already occupied by another, well-known program: the 48-year-old soap opera, General Hospital.
Turns out, ABC is planning a complex switch, in which affiliate stations are given back the last hour of the network's daytime schedule — 3 p.m. on the East Coast — to program as they wish.
Stations owned by ABC will air Couric's show, including outlets in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh/Durham, N.C., and Fresno, Calif., representing nearly 23 percent of the nation's TV households.
That leaves just two hours in the daytime lineup for ABC shows that are not The View. The network already announced it will replace All My Children with a food-oriented talk show called The Chew at 1 p.m. in September; a weight loss show called The Revolution will fill One Life to Live's 2 p.m. time slot in January.
An ABC spokeswoman says the network will choose between General Hospital, The Chew and The Revolution later in 2012, using ratings as a guide. They could pick the two strongest shows, or shave two shows down to half-hour programs and air all three from 1 to 3 p.m.
The approach helps ABC put off a decision about General Hospital until after Couric's show is announced; it may also keep the former Today show host from being known to soap opera fans as the Woman Who Killed General Hospital.
Fans of the soap opera now face new a challenge: to bring General Hospital strong enough ratings that the network keeps it around, even though programs like The Chew and The Revolution are cheaper to make.
Otherwise, the announcement of Couric's new show unfolded as expected; the New York-based show debuts in September 2012. Her former producer at Today, onetime top NBC executive Jeff Zucker, will serve as executive producer of the yet-unnamed program. (Why would a guy who once ran NBC take that job? He reportedly got profit participation.)
Couric, who left CBS last month after five years as its top news anchor, also will appear across many other platforms at ABC, beginning this summer. So she could compete against her former Today show compatriots as a guest host on Good Morning America or provide special reports on World News, further confusing network news viewers who just saw her on CBS weeks ago.
And once Couric's talk show starts next year, she will try to funnel viewers toward Diane Sawyer's World News — just as Oprah Winfrey once did — helping Sawyer compete against her successor at CBS, Scott Pelley.
TV makes strange bedfellows indeed.