BY CHUCK BARNEY
CONTRA COSTA TIMES (MCT)
Soap operas might be falling by the wayside, but that doesn’t mean daytime television is lacking drama.
This fall, no fewer than five chatty contenders will wage an all-out battle for your attention as they launch afternoon talk shows. The crowded field includes a pair of big-name celebrities (Katie Couric and Steve Harvey), a daytime comeback candidate (Ricki Lake), a reality TV fixture (Jeff Probst) and a foreign import (Trisha Goddard).
It’s the largest freshman class of TV gab-fests in quite a while — somewhat of a surprise given that these hosts face long odds in a post-Oprah world of fragmented audiences and lower ratings. Not only will they be trying to outdo each other, they’ll be fighting for survival amid a landscape cluttered with other entrenched talk shows, game shows, court shows, and, yes, a few remaining soaps.
In doing so, they’ll do their best to come across as your best friend, while dispensing info, a la Oprah, on how to make the most out of your life and relationships. For the most part, celebrity guests will not be their priority.
Here’s the roster of the hosts who will be talking up a storm this fall. (Check local listings for times and channels).
‘Katie’ Premieres: Sept. 10
The backstory: She thrived in the morning, took her lumps in the evening (news), and now tries her luck in the afternoons.
The promo pitch: “Finding the right answers is all about asking the right questions.”
Roar of the crowd: Couric has been in television for 33 years, but this will be her first time working consistently with a live studio audience. “I’m excited,” she told reporters at TV’s summer press tour. “It’s much more fun to talk to actual people and to have somebody reacting to the things you’re saying and doing.”
Showing her range: Couric believes her biggest strength is her experience with a variety of stories, from serious breaking news to the lighthearted.
“One of the exciting things for me is getting to flex all my muscles,” she says. “I feel my portfolio is really varied. I pride myself on being able to calibrate my tone and my approach.”
‘Steve Harvey’ Premieres: Sept. 4
The backstory: Successful comedian, radio and game show host, author and film producer looks to conquer another corner of the media landscape.
The promo pitch: “Life can get pretty confusing. … I’m here to help. You and I will get through this together.”
A distinct POV: Don’t expect Harvey to shy away from controversy and/or strong opinions. He’s not afraid to be edgy. “Most celebrities are not opinionated,” he said in a recent TV interview.
“They always play it safe. That won’t be me.”
A humorous twist: How will Harvey generally differ from most of his daytime rivals? “There’s not a lot funny in daytime television outside of Ellen DeGeneres. I’m going to be extremely funny,” he insists. “… I firmly believe that laughter does the absolute most for people.”
‘The Jeff Probst Show’ Premieres: Sept. 10
The backstory: “Survivor” host emerges from the jungle to embrace a very different kind of tribal council.
The promo pitch: “Bringing a whole new energy to daytime talk.”
Hold your fire: “If you’re looking for Jerry (Springer) or Maury (Povich), this show isn’t for you,” Probst said during his press tour visit. “I’m not interested in people fighting on stage and I’m not interested in paternity tests.”
Lend an ear: Probst claims that his greatest skill as an interviewer is his willingness to listen. “I’m absolutely fascinated with people,” he says. Oh, and he tends to share a lot — “sometimes too much.”
‘The Ricki Lake Show’ Premieres: Sept. 10
The backstory: Daytime veteran (1993-2004), now older and wiser, returns to the chat-fest fray.
The promo pitch: “Whatever you want to talk about, the conversation begins here.”
A different tone: Don’t expect Lake’s show to be quite as sensationalistic as her first daytime endeavor. “I’m sort of reinventing myself in this genre,” she said at the press tour. “I’m more evolved. … I think we’re doing a show now that’s a little less fluff, a little more substance.”
She’s just like me: The key to Lake’s rapport with her audience?
Relatability. “I have been rich. I have been poor. I have been fat. I have been thin,” she says. “I’m an open book, and I’m willing to share my hardships and my triumphs.”
‘Trisha Goddard’ Premieres: Sept. 17
The backstory: Mental-health activist and breast-cancer survivor hosted talk shows in Australia and England before doing guest stints on “Maury” as a “conflict-resolution” expert.
The promo pitch: “Straight talk with a no-excuse mentality.”
Leading the way: A native of the UK, Goddard broke ground in the late 1980s as Australia’s first Black TV news anchorwoman.
A transformation: Goddard, whose show will deal with relationship dilemmas and family conflicts, says her bout with cancer had a huge impact on her outlook. ‘(It) has definitely changed me,” she told British newspaper the Mail. “I love what I do. I love connecting with people … But I’m far more relaxed about it all now; I’m not some career-driven beast.”