Katie Couric is showing me around her country house, a large Dutch Colonial set amid old shade trees and manicured lawns on Long Island, N.Y. Dressed in a white T-shirt and red shorts on this July day, she looks, at 55, tan, youthful, and rested. And she has, in fact, been on a bit of a holiday. Since leaving the CBS Evening News in 2011 and joining Disney/ABC, she has tweaked her former Today colleagues by temporarily hosting Good Morning America and giddily covered the Queen’s Jubilee. But beginning tomorrow, she returns full-time to daytime TV with the launch of her syndicated show Katie, one of five new daytime talk shows this fall. If Couric has a great-looking leg up on the competition, it comes from her ability to juggle serious fun with empathy for great loss. Couric’s beautifully decorated home is filled with reminders of her late husband, Jay Monahan, a lawyer and Civil War enthusiast who died of colon cancer in 1998 at age 42. She picks up a silver-framed photo and gently caresses the glass. “Oh, look,” she says quietly, and smiles. “Isn’t he handsome?” Also heavily featured in the family pictures are the couple’s daughters, Carrie, 16, and Ellie, 21, whose mom is thrilled to share what they’ve been up to. “Carrie is in Laos building wells for villagers,” Couric says proudly, “and Ellie [who interned at HBO this summer] teaches kids at a New Haven school about safe sex. She’ll be a senior at Yale this fall.” As we sit together in a sunny parlor whose wide windows overlook a patio and swimming pool, Couric looks back on the past few years and talks about why she’s excited about moving forward.
PARADE: When you joined the CBS Evening News, becoming the first solo female network nightly news anchor, you took a big risk that didn’t work out. What did you learn?
Katie Couric: Obviously, I’m not risk-averse. I was brought to CBS to do a different kind of newscast. In the first weeks, it was a little different, but ultimately—and I fault nobody for this—there was no guarantee a retooled newscast would bring a bigger audience. If I had been offered a traditional newscast, I probably wouldn’t have gone, because it didn’t necessarily play to my strengths. I like interacting with people, having conversations. I did the best job I could, and I think our political coverage was unparalleled. I started in third place [in the ratings]. We stayed in third place. And CBS still is in third place. It was tough, but it was character-building.
Do you think one reason it didn’t work was that men still feel threatened by powerful women?
KC: I think men and women do sometimes. But you can’t pin everything on that. Our culture has become very vitriolic, where there is some kind of perverse pleasure in seeing people fail. And now there are so many more outlets to spew that vitriol.
What did you think of the way Ann Curry was dismissed from the Today show in June?
KC: I don’t know what was happening behind the scenes. Those kinds of changes are painful unless everybody’s on board. I felt terrible for her. It was uncomfortable and upsetting. On the other hand, I don’t think [the show] was clicking the way it should have, for whatever reason.
There has been speculation of a rivalry between you and Diane Sawyer, who is also at ABC. ...
KC: Have you ever heard of two guys having a cat fight? I never hear stories of conflict between Bob Schieffer and David Gregory. Diane has always been great to me. Yes, we’ve been competitors, but she has been incredibly welcoming and gracious and wonderful to me since I came to ABC.
How do you protect your daughters from the negative spillover?
KC: Well, I’ve been on television since they were born. This is what their mom does for a living. Off camera we have a pretty ordinary life. My kids—knock wood—have watched the way I live my life, and have, I think, really strong values. They’ve always been socially conscious.
Like how you were raised?
KC: My values were shaped by my parents and what [they] emphasized my whole life, which was the value of hard work and honesty. They taught us to care about other people, and I think I do have an innate empathy.