To be honest, I've never been a big fan of Katie Couric.
It seemed that whatever she was hosting, whomever she was interviewing played second fiddle to her wide smile, scruffy laugh and the first-person pronouns she seemed to wedge into everything.
Then I sat in a room the other week with Couric, 55, who was promoting her new afternoon talk show, "Katie," and all that changed.
At the event -- a breakfast meeting for media buyers and bloggers that advanced NBC's fall lineup -- Couric was asked what she is most proud of.
"Probably the fact that I think I did a pretty good job of raising my kids," Couric said. "My daughters are, first and foremost, incredibly nice girls with good values." After that, Couric cited her cancer-awareness work, from her on-camera colonoscopy (colon-cancer screening went up 20 percent after that, she said), to her Stand Up 2 Cancer fundraiser, to the establishment of a clinical center named for her late husband, Jay Monahan, who died of colon cancer in 1998.
He wasn't the only person Couric has lost. Her sister, Emily, died of cancer in 2001, and her father, John, died last year.
There is a lot of pain behind that wide smile, scruffy laugh and me, myself and I.
Which brings us to her next thing: "Katie," an hourlong talk mix of what distributor Disney-ABC Television is calling "smart with heart." (They considered calling it "Afternoon Delight," Couric joked, but that sounded like something for the Playboy Channel.) The show debuts Sept. 10, at 3 p.m. on WABC/7.
"It's a crowded field," Couric said. "But I also feel as if our show will offer something that is different."
Couric is strangely familiar. For years, she has been in your house, first thing in the morning as the longtime "Today" co-host, and during the dinner hour as the former anchor of "The CBS Evening News."
"People used to say to me, 'I feel like I know you,' and I'd always say, 'Well, actually, you do.' Because you have seen me have two kids, lose my husband to cancer, you have seen me covering tragic stories, you've seen me having fun . . . you really have gotten to know me as a person." The talk show is a return to that familiar ground, now that Couric has attempted the austere authority required of a national news anchor.
"I wanted to get back to my roots as someone who interviews people and interacts with people and is spontaneous and can laugh easily," she said, "when appropriate." She will be interviewing newsmakers and celebrities "who have something interesting to say," Couric said. "It won't be the fifth stop on a junket to promote a movie." (On her wish list: Melinda Gates, Kate Middleton and Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes.)There also will be issue-oriented shows on raising teenagers; the effect of technology on our lives, children and relationships; and caring for older parents.
"I think it's all about a good mix," Couric said. "You don't want that every day, you don't want 'cutting up,' as my mom would say, every day, or cooking every day. But if I have Paula Deen come on, talking about how she has had to adjust her life because of type 2 diabetes, and she wants to show me how she makes things differently, before and after, I'd cook with Paula Deen. Because I would like to learn that. And I think a lot of people would like to learn to cook in a healthy way."
Off the air, Couric is a big reader: Old New Yorker magazines she never had time to finish, Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography and Brene Brown's new book, "Daring Greatly," which the rest of us will get to see next month.
Couric likes to cook with fresh produce -- some of it from her own garden. She plays the piano by ear, plays tennis, takes walks. Anything else? "I like to decorate wooden picture frames with shells and rocks from the ocean," she said. "Just the typical things." Not typical? Her love life makes Page Six.
In fact, the New York Post's gossip page recently reported that she was dating New York financier John Molner, 49, after a five-year relationship with Brooks Perlin, 17 years her junior. They broke up in December.
"I am always dating," Couric said. "If I don't have a boyfriend, I am dating. If I wasn't famous, I would go on Match.com. Instead of looking for Mr. Right, you have to look for someone who is interesting and nice. And even if it's not a match made in heaven, it's interesting to learn about other people and hear their stories."
Look who else is talking this fall
JEFF PROBST (Sept. 10, 2 p.m., WNBC/4) -- Can the "Survivor" host do more than tally the votes or intone that the tribe has spoken? Taped in Los Angeles.
RICKI LAKE (Sept. 10, 4 p.m., WPIX/11) -- The actress, who hosted a daytime show from 1993 to 2004, promises extensive use of social media on her new Los Angeles-based venture.
TRISHA GODDARD (Sept. 17, 5 p.m., WLNY/10/55) -- She's well-known in Great Britain and Australia, where her shows focused on relationship and family issues. In the United States, she's guest-hosted "Maury" many times. Taped in Stamford, Conn.