December 04, 2017
Hall of Fame

Katie Couric: Hall of Fame Tribute

Lorraine Santoli

Nearly seven million people wake up with Katie Couric every morning. As co-anchor of NBC's Today, the leading AM news program, and contributing anchor on Dateline NBC, Couric is one of television's most recognizable and respected journalists.

Possessing a girl-next-door likability, Couric's popularity has contributed greatly to the ongoing success of Today, a morning news staple that made its television debut in 1952 hosted by the legendary Dave Garroway. Joining the program in June 1990 as its first national correspondent, Couric then served as substitute co-anchor from February 1991 until becoming permanent co-anchor on April 5, 1991.

While Couric loves her work "once I wipe the sleep from my eyes and get in the shower," she rises at 5 a.m. every weekday. On-air at 7, Today's three-hour format (versus two hours of news on ABC and CBS), offers viewers getting ready to meet the day considerable time to catch up on world events. "I think viewers watch us in quick blips when they're brushing their teeth or packing their kids off to school," she says. "The best ones are those who watch running on a treadmill; they watch for 20 minutes." She readily admits, "Only my mom and dad watch from beginning to end."

Couric began her career as a desk assistant for the ABC news bureau in Washington in 1979. In 1980, she joined CNN as an assignment editor and then moved to Atlanta as an associate producer for the news network where she was named producer of Take Two, a two-hour news and information program. Later she served as a political correspondent, and in 1984 relocated to Miami where she served as a reporter at WTVJ.

Continuing to further her career, in 1987 Couric moved to WRC-TV, the NBC television station in Washington, D.C. as a reporter and won an Emmy and an Associated Press Award for her work. She remained at the station for three years before joining NBC News in July 1989 as a deputy Pentagon correspondent. It was in this role that she earned the stripes that led to her initial assignment on Today, ultimately taking over for Deborah Norville in 1991 in the chair opposite Bryant Gumbel. Matt Lauer later replaced Gumbel in 1997.

During her 13-year tenure on the show, Couric has interviewed myriad world leaders, national political figures, writers, actors and pop culture icons. Some of her groundbreaking political interviews range from George Bush Sr. to current President George W. Bush and every presidential candidate in between. During a tour of the White House on its 200th anniversary by First Lady Barbara Bush in 1993, Couric conducted a newsmaking impromptu twenty-minute interview with then President Bush. In her first television interview, Hillary Clinton spoke with Couric in a one-hour prime time special. Couric also interviewed First Lady Laura Bush prior to the inauguration in 2001.

Newsmakers in the headlines are also among Couric's impressive roster of interviewees. Tricia Meili, widely known as the Central Park Jogger, shared her story of recovery and survival with Couric in an exclusive dialogue. In January of this year, she traveled to Saudi Arabia for an exclusive interview with the Saudi crown prince as world attention focused on the region. She also conducted the final television interview with John Kennedy Jr. prior to his death in July 2000 and spoke with John and Patsy Ramsey about the murder of their daughter, JonBenet, in a five-part series.

On-the-scene coverage keeps Couric on the cutting-edge of journalism as well. She reported live from Littleton, Colorado following the shooting rampage at Columbine High School in April 1999, and followed up on the tragedy at the White House with an in-depth interview with President Clinton focusing on gun control and youth violence. In an exclusive interview for Dateline NBC in February of the same year, Couric spoke with the parents of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming who was the victim of a nationally publicized hate crime.

On the lighter side, Couric co-hosted NBC's morning coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. She has also co-hosted the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for a number of years, appeared in a cameo role as a prison guard in the Austin Powers film Goldmember, hosted the TV special, Harry Potter: Behind the Magic, and made numerous TV guest appearances on such shows as Will & Grace, Cheers, Murphy Brown, Rosie O'Donnell Show, Larry King Live, and hosted The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, among others.

Born Katherine Anne Couric on January 7, 1957 in Arlington, Virginia, the future newswoman attended The Holton Arms High School in Bethesda, Maryland (where she was a cheerleader) and in 1979 graduated from the University of Virginia. In 1989 she married attorney Jay Monahan, with whom she has two daughters, Ellie, born in 1991, and Caroline, born in 1995. Monahan, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1998, passed away nine months later at age 42 from the disease. Since his death, Couric has become a tireless activist in raising public awareness of colorectal cancer. She co-founded The Entertainment Industry Foundation's National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (EIF's NCCRA) and most recently, in March 2004, dedicated The Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, honoring her late husband's memory.

Couric has also appeared before Congress to speak on the topic and in the ultimate act of raising public awareness and preventive care, had her own colonoscopy broadcast live on Today. Since the inception of this effort by Couric and the EIF's NCCRA, colonoscopy screening in the United States has increased by nearly 20% — a phenomenon University of Michigan researchers have dubbed "the Couric effect." Couric also lost her older sister, Virginia State Senator Emily Couric, to cancer in 2001. "We have to make an investment in cancer research," Couric says. "Thousands of people die every year. People like my husband and sister, in the prime of life." In May 2001, Couric was honored with the prestigious George Foster Peabody award for her series, “Confronting Colon Cancer.”

With a full plate of activities, both onscreen and off, Couric thrives on a busy schedule. "Some people like to take a bath to relax," she says. "I don't really understand the relaxing thing at all." She especially appreciates the fact that her job on Today affords her the opportunity to spend a good part of each day with her daughters. "Even though the early mornings can be rough, my schedule allows me to spend a lot of time with my children, which is very important to me."

Couric, who recently extended her lucrative NBC contract (making her TV's highest paid newswoman) through 2006, was much courted by rival networks as well as media behemoth Time Warner, offering everything from anchor spots to her own talk show. In the end, she decided to stick with the network that made her a household name. "I want to stay at the Today show as long as they want me," she says, "and as long as I feel like I'm doing fun, exciting work."

In her career, Couric has earned a total of six Emmy Awards, a National Headliner Award, the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi award, an Associated Press Award, a New York Women in Communication's Matrix Award, a Gracie Allen Award, and was named the 2002 "Wow Woman of the Year" by Glamour magazine. She was awarded the Julius B. Richmond Award 2003 by the Harvard School of Public Health.

Apart from all of the accolades, Katie Couric still considers herself "the same person I always was." Still ambitious, still hard-working, and still the genuinely likeable and definitively professional newsperson millions wake up with every day.

This tribute originally appeared in the Television Academy Hall of Fame program celebrating Katie Couric's induction in 2004.

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