BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Each season brings a new crop of daytime talk shows to the airwaves. This year’s class includes four known TV quantities: former “Today” host and “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric; returning daytime gab veteran Ricki Lake; comedian, radio host, author, and “Family Feud” referee Steve Harvey; and “Survivor” main man Jeff Probst.
On paper the quartet would appear to have not much in common. But scratch the surface and there are plenty of ties that bind, including that all four are parents and authors. And, appropriately enough, none of them is short on words.
Couric, Lake, and Probst recently attended the Television Critics Association press tour here to promote their shows, all premiering next Monday. We spoke to Steve Harvey by phone from Chicago where he was taping his new talker, which begins today. In hearing them make the case for their programs, it became clear that the foursome also shares an abundance of traits that any successful host should possess, including curiosity, cheerfulness, a sense of humor, and a willingness to share stories from their own lives to help viewers get a sense of who they are.
Each one enumerated a laundry list of life experiences that helped bolster their daytime talk bona fides.
“I have been rich. I have been poor. I have been fat. I have been thin,” says Lake, ticking off her ups and downs.
“I think being employed, unemployed, homeless, successful, having failed in marriage, being a father, a great husband, even at times when I was a lousy husband — I think all of those experiences have gotten me to a point where I have a lot to say,” says Harvey.
“I’ve experienced a lot of the things in my own life that I think we’ll be talking about,” says Couric. “I mean, it’s not going to be like, oh, Katie’s going through X, so we’re going to talk about that on the show today. But just having gone through losing a spouse at an early age and having to learn all about cancer, having to navigate dating in your 40s and 50s. Right now, I’m caring for my mother, who’s 89, after my dad passed away last summer. So I feel like a lot of the things that I’m going through in my life are relatable.”
In the past few years, Probst notes, “I’ve said yes so often I can barely keep up. I said yes to love and married an amazing woman. I said yes to being a parent to two incredible kids. The kids in return then said yes to having a new dad in their life. And then I said yes to a talk show. And then I say, what did I just do? So that’s the overall idea of the show, saying yes to the adventures in your life.”
“These shows are all personality-driven,” says Lake, the one with the proven track record in this arena, noting there’s room for everyone. (In Boston, only Harvey and Probst will be going head-to-head in the same time slot.)
Indeed, the four host personalities are distinct.
You get the sense that Couric will balance gravitas and giggles, and this is essentially what she promises: to be able to discuss breaking news — she will air live in much of the country — as well as dating and other, less topical, issues.
“One of the exciting things for me about doing the show is I’m going to be able to flex all my muscles,” she says. “So I hope that people expect me to have the ability to tackle a lot of different subjects well, from the very, very serious to much more lighthearted feature-type stories.”
Harvey, who claims no expertise other than knowing how men think, promises to be the class clown with a sensitive side and an attentive ear.
“I think it’s a decided edge,” says Harvey of his comedy background. “When it comes to giving people a good time, I think it’s going to be hard to beat me.”
Probst, who practically glows with positive energy at a press event to celebrate the new season, will be the polite-but-energetic boy next door, and his show is going to have a “party room” where guests and audience members can get a cocktail, hair and make-up, and a massage.
“I’m not a cynic,” he says. “Hearing Coldplay play makes me want to sing and dance. I’m so happy to be alive. I really am,” he says referring to the song pumping from the speakers. But he adds, “I don’t jump on the couch and go, ‘Aren’t you happy, too?’ ”
And Lake will be like that old girlfriend you’re excited to catch up with now that you’re both older and wiser. (Full disclosure: Lake and I were college classmates. Fuller disclosure: She didn’t remember me unprompted.)
“It’ll be everything we covered on my old show but from a little bit of a deeper place. I might be singing. I might be dancing. The one thing I won’t be doing is cooking. I don’t cook,” says Lake with a throaty laugh. Other than that she says, “I’m up for anything.” Which includes talking about her personal life — she is newly married — as is the case with all the hosts.
Another thing they all would likely agree with is Harvey’s stance on avoiding tabloid-talk shenanigans — the chair-smashing, the guest-brawling — of yore.
“I’m just not going to do it, it’s not me,” says Harvey emphatically. “And if that’s the deal, then I’ll go do something else. I’m not going to do that. I don’t care what kind of rating it gets, it’s not me. I don’t really have a life that has lent itself to foolishness and gossip. I don’t like finding the low point of people and accentuating that. I want to [focus on the] upside: ‘How did you get over? What did you do to become successful? What are the principles you applied to get yourself in the position you’re in today?’ That’s the only thing that I’m interested in. To bring a person on just so I can feel better about myself by looking at how miserable they are, that’s of no value to me.”
Now it’s up to viewers to decide which, if any of these shows, will be of value to them.
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