Will Katie Couric become the next Oprah Winfrey?
The former Today show darling, who crashed and burned as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, is back doing what she does best: giggly celebrity interviews and sincere news-lite segments from a plush, comfy chair.
Couric is one of five new contenders for the crown that Oprah abdicated after 25 years in 2011.
Now everyone in the talk show business wants what she had: a devoted fan base, huge ratings and more wealth than they can imagine. But the top names in talk -- Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Ellen DeGeneres, Kelly Ripa and Maury Povich -- all proved last year that Oprah-style dominance is not easily accomplished.
They all made ratings gains. But they're still averaging in the range of 3 million to 4 million viewers a day, a far cry from the 6 million-plus that stayed with The Oprah Winfrey Show till the very end.
This season's battle for daytime talk dominance begins in earnest this week.
Katie, The Ricki Lake Show and The Jeff Probst Show make their debuts Monday. Other newcomers to the field are Steve Harvey (which premiered last week) and Trisha (coming Sept. 17).
Here's what to expect from these new shows.
Host: Katie Couric, 55. In addition to her 15 years as co-host on Today (1991-2006), she became the first female solo anchor of an evening-news broadcast on the CBS Evening News (2006-2011). She's also a bestselling author ( The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives) and a well-known cancer-awareness advocate.
When it's on: 4 p.m. weekdays, WFAA/Channel 8
What to expect: Couric promises a blend of topics ranging from parenting to pop culture, aging to activism, sex to celebrity. Her first episode will feature interviews with Jessica Simpson, talking about life as a new mom, and Sheryl Crow, opening up about her recently diagnosed brain tumor. (It's also worth mentioning that Crow wrote and performed the show's theme song, titled This Day.)
Tuesday's episode, meanwhile, goes a different route: an interview with a college student who lost parts of her limbs to a rare flesh-eating bacteria yet has faced the recovery process with courage and grace.
The Ricki Lake Show
Host: Ricki Lake, 43. After making her feature-film debut as the leading lady in the 1988 cult favorite Hairspray, Lake hosted her own popular syndicated talk show, Ricki Lake, for 11 years (1993-2004). More recently, in 2011, she placed third in Season 13 of Dancing With the Stars.
When it's on: 4 p.m. weekdays, KDAF/Channel 33
What to expect: Lake promises that her new show will aim higher than the original did. She was No. 2 to Oprah in the mid-1990s, but she did it with such lowbrow themes as "I've Got A Secret: I Slept With Your Man!" Now she aspires to do material that's more mature, more substantial, more relevant. Topics will include parenting, weight loss, sex, health, beauty, career, and losing love and finding it again.
Her role model this time around is Phil Donahue, not Jerry Springer.
The Jeff Probst Show
Host: Jeff Probst, 50. He's the longtime host of the globetrotting reality/competition series Survivor, one of TV's top-rated shows since its premiere in 2000. He proved his ability to handle himself in a TV talk arena as a frequent guest co-host alongside Kelly Ripa on Live! With Kelly. He might have been a contender for Regis Philbin's old spot had he not taken himself out of the running to do this show.
When it's on: Noon weekdays, KXAS/Channel 5
What to expect: As a newlywed and a new dad, Probst plans to focus on themes of marriage, parenting and relationships. He says his experiences as a people-watcher on Survivor and as a colleague of Howard Stern in talk-show settings have honed his knack for making people open up in interviews. One signature segment will be "Guys on the Couch," with men answering women's most intimate questions.
And although Probst is trading the bug-invested wilderness for a living-room set, he hasn't lost his spirit of adventure. Witness the segment "Ambush Adventure," which involves subjecting audience members to challenges that are outside their comfort zone.
Host: Steve Harvey, 55. In addition to a long career as a stand-up comedian, he has had success as a sitcom star ( The Steve Harvey Show), as a game-show host ( Family Feud) and as a bestselling author (the dating advice book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, 2009). The book also spawned a hit movie.
When it's on: 2 p.m. weekdays, KXAS/Channel 5
What to expect: Harvey pledges to provide insightful humor and common-sense advice to those seeking solutions to very personal relationship problems. Each hour features multiple topics such as marriage, dating, parenting, workplace issues, personal finance and friendship dilemmas.
He claims his true area of expertise is knowing what makes men tick and knowing how to "demystify" why men do the things they do. Having given up his stand-up career to do this show, he's very motivated to make it a hit.
Host: Trisha Goddard, 54. She was the "Queen of Chat" in the U.K. as host of a long-running talk show, Trisha Goddard. Before that, when she lived in Australia, she was the first black anchorwoman on Australian TV. More recently, when she appeared as an expert and then a guest host on Maury (from the same production company), the ratings spiked.
When it's on: 11 a.m. weekdays, KTXA/Channel 21 (beginning Sept. 17)
What to expect: As a trained conflict-resolution expert, Goddard plans to help everyday people and their families navigate tough issues they're struggling to overcome. Her target audience: women. Her approach: straight talk, no excuses and common sense.