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CNN LARRY KING WEEKEND

Encore Presentation: Interview With Katie Couric

Aired December 8, 2002 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Katie Couric of NBC's "Today" Show. The queen of morning TV has lost her husband and her beloved sister to cancer. But she's managed to turn those devastating tragedies into a force for good. This megastar tells us her inspiring story and how she looks so good getting up at 4 a.m. every morning. She's next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: It's always a great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Katie Couric, the co-anchor of NBC's "Today Show" -- has been doing that for over 10 years -- contributing anchor of NBC "Dateline," the host of "Katie at Night," an NBC prime time interview special which debuts tomorrow night. She's also going to host and narrate a PBS series, "Freedom: The History of Us." That comes along in January. A lot on her plate.

How did -- this was part of the new deal, right, this special thing tomorrow?

KATIE COURIC, NBC's "TODAY": Well, yes, Larry.

No, you know what? I wanted to do something in addition to doing "The Today Show." I thought it would be fun to do some taped pieces where I could do longer, sort of, more production-rich pieces. I do some of that, obviously, on "The Today Show," but we just thought it would be a fun, kind of, way to spread my wings. So that's what we're doing.

KING: How many of them do you get a year?

COURIC: Really there's no specific numbers. It's, sort of, really as they come up. You know, obviously if someone's available and they're worth a whole hour, or if there's separate personalities we want to profile, or there's an issue that's very topical and newsworthy, then we might take a closer look at that.

So it's really nice, because they're not formulaic in any way, it's, sort of, anything goes, and we have a lot of ability to be creative. So I'm looking forward to it.

KING: Do you like the idea that it's being termed NBC's response to Barbara Walters? Is that good or bad for you? What's your thinking along that line?

COURIC: I love Barbara. I think she's fantastic. She's really been a mentor to me. And, you know, I think it's not -- I don't think that's necessarily the case. I mean, I think that they were happy to give me a little bit of a forum in prime-time.

I think that I'm, sort of, doing it -- I'm taking a different approach. I mean, there's not much new in television really. But I am doing some celebrity profiles in the first one, so I can see why people would be making that comparison, and I'm flattered that they are. But hopefully mine will be different, because Barbara and I are clearly two very different people, and we each have our unique styles.

KING: Do you think attention is paid to it because you happen to both be women and women are still treated differently than men?

COURIC: Not necessarily. I really don't. I think that women have made so many strides in broadcasting, and we're doing so well in a lot of regards. So I don't really think that's necessarily the case.

I think that maybe people nitpick a little more when it comes to female broadcasters, and I'm not sure you would see Ted Koppel or Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw necessarily doing the profiles that I'm doing for my first special.

But, no, I really don't feel like women are under more -- that much more scrutiny than men are.

KING: OK. Let's get into what we're going to see tomorrow at 10 o'clock Eastern.

COURIC: OK. Well, we're doing three profiles of three very interesting women who really have had different experiences and in some ways similar life experiences, and they're both, sort of -- they're all coming back in a way.

Sharon Stone, as you know, Larry, had a very difficult situation in September of 2001, where she had a splitting headache and something called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, and she almost died. And I think she has an incredibly dramatic story. She's obviously, sort of, a movie star in every sense of the word; kind of, Joan Crawfordesque in a way.

KING: Yes.

COURIC: And so I spent some time with Sharon and her family in San Francisco recently, and that was a lot of fun. She's adopted a little baby boy named Roan (ph). Her husband, Phil Bronstein, is an executive editor for the "San Francisco Chronicle." So that's one profile. And I thought she was fascinating. And I've always been fascinated with her -- not only as an actress, but as a person.

When I went to England not too long ago, and spent some time with Olivia Harrison, who was married to George Harrison for 23 years, knew him for 28. And I was fascinated by not only his life, but with the dignity with which he dealt with death and his whole spirituality. And I had a wonderful conversation and a great visit with her at Friar Park, which is a magnificent Victorian manse that has incredible gardens.

And I was really fascinated with him as a person, and with Olivia as well. I think she was nervous doing an interview because, let's face it, she spent about 28 years trying to protect this -- the privacy of this fiercely private man. And I think it was difficult for her to talk about their lives together. But I think she was wonderful.

And then Shania Twain, and she, sort of, dropped out of the scene for three years. She moved to Switzerland with her husband Mutt. She had a little baby named Eja, a little boy who's 17 months old. And she's been so interesting, because she's such a successful cross-over artist. And I had a great time with her in Canada. I went to her cabin in Canada, because she too is a privacy freak and, understandably, didn't want a bunch of camera crews descending on her house in Switzerland.

So, it's profiles of three very interesting women, and I think they all have fascinating stories to tell.

KING: Any particular reason why the first special featured only women?

COURIC: No, not really. It was -- as you know, Larry, from doing this show, usually people have a reason they want to talk about something. Sharon actually just, I think, wanted to do an interview because she hadn't in two or three years, and wanted to basically talked about what had happened to her, and how her life had changed. Shania has a CD coming out. And Olivia and George's son, Danny, helped produce a CD called "Brainwashed," of songs that George wrote before he died. And it's also been about a year since his death.

So it was really just serendipitous that the three of them were willing to sit down and talk with me at the same time. We didn't set out to profile three women; it just worked out that way.

KING: Do you like doing interviews on the road in their territory rather than in yours?

COURIC: Yes, you know, I think it mixes things up. I love variety, and I think it was -- and it was really fun for me to see them in their environment. You know, I do think you learn a lot about people to see the way they live, and I think often times they feel more comfortable in their own surroundings.

So to be at Sharon's house in San Francisco, and walking on the beach with her and looking at the incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge she has from her home, or going to Shania's cabin where all her siblings go, and where her sister lives. You know, it's just interesting.

And then, of course, Friar Park, I've never seen anything quite like that. I mean it was so unbelievably beautiful.

And so I do enjoy going on the road. It's a little tiring, and of course I've been juggling this with doing my regular gig on "The Today Show." But it was a lot of fun for me to see how they live and where they live, and just the beautiful places they live.

KING: Katie Couric's our special guest. Her primetime special, "Katie At Night," debuts tomorrow night at 10 Eastern on NBC. We'll be back with more right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC: Why did ya'll decide -- I'm talking like I'm part of Nashville now. Why didn ya'll decide to do that?

SHANIA TWAIN, SINGER: I was noticing that. I was going to point that out. No, that was one of the few places without really isolating myself where I felt that I could be normal and really just forget about the Shania thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC: Did you feel like you were going to die.

SHARON STONE, ACTRESS: I feel that I did die and...

COURIC: You're looking at your husband to make sure he doesn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you're completely whacked out and say this on national television?

STONE: No, it's fine. Ahhh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Katie Couric is our guest tonight. She hosted a fund- raiser a couple weeks back in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria. One of the greatest collection of entertainment figures in one night at one place all for a good cause, and that cause was what, Katie?

COURIC: It's the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at New York Presbyterian Hospital here in New York City. It's basically a comprehensive cancer center, Larry, for people who are diagnosed with a variety of GI cancers -- gastrointestinal cancers. That's colorectal, pancreatic, bladder, stomach, esophageal, and some forms of liver cancer.

And it's going to be a place that opens in 2004 where people can go and have, under one roof, a whole host of experts, from laparoscopic surgeons to nutritionists to, you know, oncologists; all sorts of people who can assist people who are going through this very difficult period of their lives and also their families, as well. There will be genetic counselors there, for example -- a radiologist.

I know one of the problems -- the many challenges that Jay and I faced when he was sick, is that we had to go from place to place in a way that was really, kind of, dehumanizing and demeaning and confusing and exhausting, to be honest with you. And we just wanted to have a center where we could be compassionate and embrace people and help them through this journey.

KING: Are there centers like this in other hospitals in the country?

COURIC: Well, there are a lot of breast centers. I think it's, sort of, the wave of the future. I know that there a couple of breast centers here in New York -- a women's health center.

But in terms of GI cancers, I don't think -- I think this is truly unique. There may be a department of GI cancers. But I don't think, you know, in a small one-building operation that people will have at their fingertips the kind of expertise and, frankly, the kind of compassionate expertise that we'll be offering at this center.

KING: This teaches a lesson also that cancer is -- all cancers are not the same, right?

COURIC: That's true, yes.

KING: And speciality cancers need speciality places.

COURIC: Well, yes, that's definitely true. And that's why we're going to -- you know, we didn't want have too broad a brush and try to do too much. So we thought if we focused on GI cancers that would be a very meaningful way for us to honor Jay. And, of course, my sister, Emily, died of pancreatic cancer. So in a way this is -- we'll be honoring Emily's memory, too, because, you know, she experienced some of the same difficulties that Jay did during the course of her treatment.

KING: How did you get Robert De Niro, Kevin Spacey, Kelsey Grammer, Robin Williams, Kevin Kline, Bette Midler, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Tony Danza, the cast of "The Sopranos," et cetera...

(LAUGHTER)

... to do this?

COURIC: Pretty impressive, huh?

KING: Did you call them personally?

COURIC: Yes, most of them I did call personally. But I also had some incredible help: the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which has really been my partner. Lisa Paulsen is an amazing person. They're the philanthropic arm of Hollywood. Lisa, of course, knows a lot of these people.

Kevin Huvane was a co-chairman. He's the head of CAA, the Creative Artists Agency. And Kevin called some people. But I was not above picking up the phone and begging.

And I told Robert De Niro, "Listen, I'm going to ask you the mother of all favors." And he said, "Well, you owe me." And I was so delighted that he was willing to do it.

But apparently in "Analysis That," his new movie, he and Billy Crystal sing a number of "West Side Story" tunes. And I think that people, A, knew it was for a great cause; and, B, absolutely adored the music of "West Side Story." So I think they saw it as a wonderful opportunity to sing beautiful things and to do something great.

KING: Your husband, who appeared on this show, who was some kind of guy, it is hard to believe that Jay is gone five years in January.

COURIC: Yes, it is.

KING: What does it seem like to you?

COURIC: You know, I think in some ways it seems like it was yesterday. The memories are so vivid and palpable for me. In some ways it seems like a whole lifetime away.

And, you know, I think for anyone who's experienced something like this it is a life-altering experience and you just deal with it in different ways every single day.

And -- but I hope Jay -- you know, I said, when I gave my remarks at the benefit, that Jay would be so tickled to see such a turnout. And he was -- you know, Larry, you knew Jay, he was such a bon vivant and...

KING: Yes, he was.

COURIC: ... and such a snazzy dresser that he'd be working the room and loving every minute of it. And ultimately, I think, he'd be really ticked off that he couldn't be there and couldn't be at the party, but more importantly couldn't be watching Ellie (ph) and Carrie (ph) grow up, and...

KING: How old are they now?

COURIC: Ellie's (ph) 11 and Carrie's (ph) 6.

KING: So, Carrie (ph) didn't pretty much remember her father, does she?

COURIC: Well, you know, she does actually.

KING: Really?

COURIC: Yes. She has very vivid memories of him. And actually when I went to see her teacher at kindergarten I thought it was so touching, because her teacher said, "You know, some of the girls in the class asked Carrie (ph) what happened to her father, and she said that he had died." And they were all sitting around a little table and one of the little girls said, "Well, where is he now?" And Carrie (ph) said, "Well, he's actually, he's sitting in a chair right next to me."

And I thought that was such a great image for her to hold on to, so clearly I think she feels Jay's spirit in a very real and meaningful way.

But, you know, it's a delicate balance. You want them to remember and appreciate and still love their dad, but you also want children to be happy and to enjoy the things that children enjoy and not dwell on it too much. So I really try to strike the right balance.

KING: You mentioned your sister, who I also knew quite well, who might have been governor of that state...

COURIC: Yes.

KING: Terrific lady. And she died within this same, kind of, period. So is there a method, Katie, you're so bouncy, one would think that there's a Katie Couric method for dealing with grief.

COURIC: Oh, gosh. I don't think so. You know, I try to maintain my professionalism, I think doing "The Today Show" during the course of Jay's illness, and later Emily's, was excruciatingly difficult.

But I also have two children to raise, I have a job that I -- that's very important to me, and that, I think, has a lot of responsibility. And so I just try to focus on that.

But, of course, my public persona may be quite different than my private one, but I am basically a very positive person. Jay used to say I was born on a sunny day. And I try to have a good attitude and try to be as upbeat as I can because, you know, we all have a finite period of time on the planet and, you know, if the roles had been reversed and this had happened to me I wouldn't want Jay wasting his life mourning for me.

KING: Katie Couric's our guest. Her first special for NBC, "Katie at Night," debuts tomorrow night at 10 Eastern with Sharon Stone, with George Harrison's widow, Olivia, and with the great Shania Twain.

Back with more of Katie Couric right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "Today")

MATT LAUER, NBC HOST: Good morning and welcome to "Today" on this Tuesday morning. I'm Matt Lauer and nothing makes me happier to say, along with Katie Couric. We missed you. Welcome back, Katie.

COURIC: Thank you Matt, for all your support. I just wanted to say a few things about my absence. Many of you know that I lose my husband, Jay Monahan, my loving and beloved husband, last month after a courageus battle with Colon Cancer. Words, of course, will never describe how devastating this loss has been for me and my daughter and all of Jay's family as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Katie Couric.

Based on all this, do you have concerns of your own about Katie Couric and cancer?

COURIC: Well, I think that anyone whose life has been touched by cancer -- and whose hasn't at this point? -- you know, is frightened by it.

I try to take really good care of myself. I try to get screened for the cancers that I should be screened for. You know, I try to get annual -- I do get annual pap smears and mammography.

KING: Have all the checkups gone well for you?

COURIC: Yes, they have.

KING: Now, these rumors -- everybody prints about it, so I got to ask you about it -- you and Tom Werner, who I know pretty well...

COURIC: Yes.

KING: ... if you marry him, you're going to have the lifetime wish: a baseball owner. You will own the Red Sox.

COURIC: Well, Larry, I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves actually.

KING: You've been seeing him forever already.

COURIC: Not forever already, just a few years.

KING: Wouldn't you like to own a baseball team?

COURIC: You know, Larry, that may be your fantasy, but it's not necessarily mine.

KING: Right. But how goes it? You want to remarry?

COURIC: Maybe someday, yes.

KING: But nothing close?

COURIC: You know, you'll be the first to know, Larry.

KING: Yes, I'm sure. Nothing you want to announce tonight?

COURIC: Oh, yes, yes. No, I don't think so, Larry. KING: By the way, how does he like having a baseball team? He owned one on the West Coast, the Padres, and now he's got the Red Sox. Find a big difference?

COURIC: Well, you know, you should probably be interviewing Tom about this.

KING: OK. All right.

COURIC: But I think that he's really enjoying himself, that it's a lot of fun.

You know, he said he laughs when people ask him, when he was a little boy, you know, was it his dream to own a baseball team. And he always says, "Are you nuts? It was my dream to be a baseball player."

I mean, not many kids, I don't think, grow up -- or dream of being an owner when they grow up, except for maybe you when you were a little boy, Larry.

KING: Yes, everybody -- who didn't want to be a baseball player? I'd chuck all this to have been a second baseman for the Red Sox.

COURIC: Yes?

KING: For the Red Sox, anybody, for 20 years, forget it. It's a great life.

Is there anything you'd rather be than you are now?

COURIC: I'd like to be a great singer. I really -- when I hear people sing and they sound so beautiful and sing so well, I am so envious. I just think that would be such a treat.

KING: So, if you could chuck this to be Celine Dion...

COURIC: Yes?

KING: ... you would.

COURIC: I would probably be -- I'd like to be a singer maybe on Broadway, like Rebecca Luker or Heather Headley.

KING: Ah ha.

COURIC: I mean, they just have the most incredibly pure, beautiful voices. Or I'd love to sing like Julie Andrews did when she was in "The Sound of Music." I mean, that would just be so wonderful and exciting.

But you know what? I can't. So forget it.

KING: I could tell by that scream you can't.

(LAUGHTER) COURIC: Well, I sometimes -- believe it or not, I sing better than anyone else in my family. I can at least carry a tune. Everybody else is really the pits, and I'm just the pits.

KING: What was it -- when you -- everybody read about it -- when you signed that great contract, is there a little -- did you think back to when you were working at CNN at the beginning or do you think back to -- as Tom Brokaw said to me once, "We don't really deserve what we make." I mean, we don't. I mean, a cop deserves more than we make. A teacher certainly deserves more than what we make.

COURIC: I agree.

KING: So is it a little -- what were your feelings?

COURIC: Well, first of all, you know, a lot of the stuff that was in the press was just plain wrong. You know, people speculate, then one thing gets printed, and then everybody prints the same thing.

KING: Correct.

COURIC: So I was slightly bemused by it, to say the least. You know, I never can quite figure out who talks, how this gets out and why it appears in print. So I felt very uncomfortable about the whole thing.

But I know that it happens, and I'm compensated incredibly well, and NBC has been great to me. And I really am very appreciative. And, you know, I was raised in a family where it's just, kind of, rude and impolite to even discuss one's salary. So I'm just - I'm very appreciative, and hopefully I'll be able to do a lot of wonderful things with the incredible salary I get.

KING: How close did you come to leaving NBC and doing a syndicated show?

COURIC: I thought about it, and I talked to a number of people, and I was very flattered that people were interested in talking to me in the first place. And when push came to shove, you know, NBC has been my home for a long time. I worked for the NBC affiliate in Washington. I covered the Pentagon before I came to "The Today Show."

And, you know, my comfort level is such that I really love coming to work every day, I love the people with whom I work. You know, I really enjoy being Matt's partner, and I just wasn't ready to leave. There was just something in my gut that said, you know, "Not yet."

So I'm really, really happy that I stayed, because I still love my job.

KING: Do you have a new executive producer now?

COURIC: Yes, we do.

KING: Who is it? COURIC: His name is Tom Touchet, and he has just started. Fresh meat. And he's got a fabulous reputation. He seems like a really smart person with a lot of depth. He's very calm. Supposed to be a fabulous live producer. And I'm really looking forward to working with him.

The piece de resistance for me, of course, is that he graduated from the University of Virginia, which happens to be my alma mater. So I was happy about that.

KING: Ivy Leaguers working -- Virginia's not in the Ivy League, but they should be.

COURIC: No, it's the Harvard of the South, Larry, though.

KING: The Harvard is Virginia of the North.

COURIC: Yes, exactly.

KING: We'll be back with more of Katie Couric. Her new show starts tomorrow. On our program tomorrow night an hour before hers, Johnny Cash is the guest. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "Today")

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC: As Matt just mentioned, we have a breaking news story to tell you about -- apparently, a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center here in New York City. It happened just a few moments ago, apparently. We have very little information available at this point in time, but on the phone we do have Jennifer Overstein (ph), who apparently witnessed this event. Jennifer, can you hear me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Katie.

COURIC: Hi. Can you please tell me what you saw and give me any information about what's going on there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's quite terrifying. I saw -- I heard a boom, looked up, and there was a big ball of fire. I'm now looking north at the World Trade Center.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Katie Couric.

We live in a world of fear, and that fear is certainly enhanced since 9/11. You were on the air that morning. What was happening the second you -- give me the scenario. COURIC: It was so weird, because I think -- I was in the news production area, sort of, in the back of the studio, I guess just relaxing, because Matt was doing the -- one of the last segments of the day.

I looked up on my monitor and I saw a shot from CNN of the World Trade Center and fire coming out of it. And I thought: "Oh, that's really strange. What's going on?" And, of course, I ran in and we immediately started covering it live.

And the experience of talking to some of our colleagues who lived in that area and called in on their cell phone, and then watching that second plane plow into the building is just something I will never forget as long as I live.

I remember my hand just started to shake. And I looked at Al, because we weren't on camera at the time. And I said, "What the heck is going on here?"

That was just such a strange day, because then we'd find out -- Jim Miklaszewski -- you know Mik, Larry -- he was at the Pentagon and he started to talk. And we heard this explosion. And I thought, how strange; there's been some kind of construction accident at this very moment. Because they were doing construction at the Pentagon. And not in a million years did we think, another plane. And then, someone handed me a wire showing me that this plane had crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

So it was so surreal. I felt like the world was coming to an end.

I remember I ran and called my parents who live in Arlington. And I said, "Mom and Dad, all this stuff is happening. Go into the basement," which I thought was so strange. But I had that kind of feeling that who knew what was going to happen next.

And my girls were both in school. And I thought, you know, that's the best place for them. But it was extremely upsetting, to say the least. I don't even think words can explain how upset people were.

KING: And how did it affect your broadcasting?

COURIC: It was weird, because I had a number of people say to me, I can't believe how you were able to remain so calm.

But it was so confusing and so chaotic and so hard to grasp, you know, I just could not get my brain around the idea that people had done this intentionally and taken all the lives of those people on those planes, not to mention at the World Trade Center. And I just, sort of, felt like I had to be very calm and very collected for all the people watching me who had no idea what had happened to their loved ones. I felt that my job was really, really important and I had to do the very, very best I could. So that's what I hopefully did.

KING: And as a New Yorker and a broadcaster and a mother, what's life been like since?

COURIC: I think for everybody in this country, you know, there's pre-September 11 and post-September 11. I mean, every cliche in the book has been used, but it was the end of our innocence. I worry about the kind of world my children are inheriting. I worry about everyone's personal safety. I worry about the evil forces around the world that don't care who they harm or kill to make their point. And it's the world, I think, is a very frightening place right now.

On the other hand, I try not to let this haunt me day in or day out or every minute of every day. And I try to enjoy my life. I try to do a good job raising my children. And I try to live life to the fullest. You know, I'm a single mother already, so I try not to take many risks.

KING: What are you going to do for PBS?

COURIC: Oh, I'm going...

KING: You don't have enough to do.

COURIC: Yes, really...

KING: As your mother would say, "You don't have enough to do."

COURIC: I know. I'm doing a really exciting 16-part series called "The History of Us," which is a look at freedom in this country.

Speaking of September 11, it had to be altered and reexamined, some of the issues, in this post-September 11 environment. And I'm doing it with Coon Heart (ph) Productions, a brother -- two brothers, and I'm the narrator and they have all sorts of famous people portraying different famous people in history.

For example, Meryl Streep is Mother Jones, Reese Witherspoon -- I mean, the list goes on and on. Chris Reeve actually galvanized the talent...

KING: Just like "You Are There," the old Walter Cronkite thing in which they would go back in history and actors would play people in history?

COURIC: In a way, but it's really done with historical photographs and documents and scenes in a very, sort of, documentary style. And it's for families, it's for middle-school kids and younger and high-schoolers, and actually I've learned a tremendous amount just doing it.

Of course, we learned history in school, but we're introduced through this series to so many great figures who had such an impact who we might not have read about in history books.

So I'm really excited to be a part of this project. I think it's an incredibly noble and important effort, and I was just thrilled when they invited me to be the narrator. KING: If memory serves me correct, was not Jay a history nut?

COURIC: Oh, yes. He was a complete Civil War nut.

KING: Yes.

COURIC: He was a reenactor, in fact -- a Confederate reenactor, and he dressed up and rode horses and hung out with guys...

KING: They're very serious, those people.

COURIC: ... and slept in tents. Yes, you know, Jay was serious but he didn't take it too seriously. I mean, some of those guys are so serious they actually urinate on their buttons to make them look, you know, more aged. And I was like, yikes. And I said to Jay, you know, "If you think I'm going to follow you around in a hoop skirt and a snood, you've got a second thing coming to you."

But he really enjoyed it. I think he enjoyed bonding with the guys. And he was so passionate and, you know, he was so knowledgeable, he really was a scholar. He knew every troop movement at the battle of Antietam and Gettysburg and he was just -- you know, he really came alive when he was talking about the Civil War.

KING: This PBS special, by the way, will premier in January, right?

COURIC: That's right.

KING: It's called "Freedom: The History of Us," 16-part series. Katie's the narrator.

We'll be back with two more segments with Katie Couric, and don't forget her new special series of shows, "Katie at Night," debuts tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern on -- where else? -- NBC.

We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC: Hi, I'm Katie Couric. Come on a journey and travel through time. It's the story of freedom of America. It's "The History of Us."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with the very busy Katie Couric.

Some people think that -- were there people remarking that they thought you got snobbery after a while, that you've gotten so big you were too big?

COURIC: No, no. I think that I was asked recently in Q&A in TV Guide if I thought that people's perceptions of me had changed, I guess...

KING: And had you?

COURIC: And I said, "Well, gosh, I hope not." You know, I think you only have so much control over how people see you and, you know, I really -- I feel like I'm very much the same person with the same values and hopefully that's not the case.

KING: It's hard, though; when you don't have to ask the price of something you like, that has to change your life.

COURIC: Well, I'm so cheap I still ask the prices of things I like. I still, you know, don't buy retail if I can help it, you know...

KING: Katie...

COURIC: No, listen, no, it's true, I really -- I like to get value for the things I buy. I think it's maybe because my parents were children of the Depression, and they've always saved their money, every check I got or every $5 bill I got for my birthday it went to a fund for my college.

KING: Do you bargain?

COURIC: No, I do not hondle (ph). I do not.

But I do, I try, I truthfully do not like people who are ostentatious. I don't like people who are so status-seeking that they feel like they have to wear things that, you know, show how much they spent on a certain item. That's just never been my style. I find it, kind of, repugnant. So, I still feel that way.

Yes, I don't -- you know, one real luxury is I don't worry about money very much. You know, I used to think, "Gosh, I'm in television." A friend of mine said when I got this job, "Today you may be drinking the wine, tomorrow you could be picking the grapes."

But I've been very conservative and I've put a lot of money away, so if I do get fired that I'll be able to support my kids and keep sending them to school and have enough money for them to go to college.

So I feel, you know, that that is a real luxury because that -- you know, to add that worry and concern on top of the struggles of day-to-day life is extremely difficult and traumatizing for people. So I feel very fortunate.

KING: Competitiveness. First, what do you make of the new format on CBS in the morning?

COURIC: Hey, I think it's great that they're trying something new. I don't -- I know Harry and Hannah from working -- obviously, Harry was at the CBS Morning News earlier in my tenure on "Today," and Hannah Storm used to be at NBC Sports. I think they're both terrific. And, you know, it's hard because I think it's great to branch out and try something new. On the other hand that's a scary proposition, too. So I admire the fact that they're trying it, and I wish them all the best.

KING: Why do you think, if you can step away from it a moment -- leaving Katie Couric out, why has CBS always had a rough time in the morning?

COURIC: I don't know.

KING: Always, forever.

COURIC: I don't know. They say that the ratings in morning television, sort of, move at glacier-like speeds, and people get, I think, very...

KING: Used to?

COURIC: Yes, it's very habitual, if that's the right word, and people feel very familial toward their particular group in the morning.

And I'm not sure; I think it's a bit of a mystery why CBS has always had trouble. And maybe, I think they should stop saying -- or people -- if they stopped printing that they've always had trouble maybe they would do better, because maybe it's a self-fulfilling prophesy at this point.

But I do think that morning television can be very habit forming. And we've been very lucky in our success. And NBC -- "The Today Show" has been around so long, I think that's also been very helpful to us.

KING: Is it the longest running show on TV now?

COURIC: Yes, I think so. I think, maybe with "The Tonight Show." It's 50-plus years old.

KING: Do you feel very competitive with "Good Morning, America"?

COURIC: You know, I do -- I mean, I'm a competitive person. That's definitely true. And I feel competitive with, you know, all journalists. I want to try to get a good interview. I want to try to do the best job I possibly can. I'd like to have them on air first when there's somebody big in the news. So, yes, I'm competitive, but really, sort of, with a lot of different outlets. I like them to come to "The Today Show" first.

KING: Are you the kind who goes nuts if GMA picks up two-tenths of point one day?

COURIC: You know, I've never been really obsessed with the ratings. And so, I try to do the best show we can.

When we were number two in the ratings, when Jeff Soker (ph) started as executive producer and I had just started as the anchor, I think that's when we did some of our best shows because we tried so many different things. We took so many risks. We would do really long segments or, you know, we'd be all over the place. We would do very unexpected things. And I just loved the show. And it didn't bother me that we were number two in the ratings.

I think when you become too obsessed with those ratings you really lose sight of your job, which is to put on a great show that you really love and that you think is entertaining and informative and enlightening.

So to answer your question, no, I really don't. Half the time I'm like: "Oh, by the way" -- I'll say to people who pay attention -- "how are ratings? Are we doing OK in the ratings?" But it's not something I deal with on a daily or even weekly basis.

KING: And you don't hate Diane Sawyer.

COURIC: No, I think Diane is great. I have incredible respect for her. I think she's a really hard worker. I think she's incredibly smart. And I admire her a lot.

KING: Yeah, but they print those things because they think girls, you know, ladies...

COURIC: Yes. The cat fight thing, no.

KING: Yes.

COURIC: Yes. Listen, I'm competitive with her. I'm competitive with Barbara. I'm competitive, you know, with probably Hannah Storm if Hannah got a big interview. You know, I think we're all competitive, and that's what makes us good at what we do.

But I think, you know, I like them. I don't know them that well, but I certainly, you know, don't stay up at night thinking of ways that, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

Having a little voodoo doll or anything like that. I think they're great.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Katie Couric. Her special, "Katie at Night," premieres tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern.

Johnny Cash will be our guest tomorrow evening.

And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC: And welcome to "Today" on this Monday morning, everyone. I'm Katie Couric. LAUER: And I'm Matt Lauer. Welcome back. How was your vacation?

COURIC: It was fantastic. I think it looks fantastic, I really do.

LAUER: Thirty-year anniversary of Watergate, I'm playing Haldeman in a play.

COURIC: I really like it.

LAUER: Thank you.

COURIC: I like it. It's all about hair.

LAUER: Good to have you back.

COURIC: Well, thank you very much, Matt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with our remaining moments with Katie Couric. We'll touch some little bases here.

When Matt Lauer went to that weird haircut, did he just come in one day that way?

COURIC: He did.

KING: And what did you think when you first saw it?

COURIC: When I saw it? I was like, whoa! Because I was so surprised. I had no idea that that was coming.

But, you know, I know that Matt's attitude has been he wants to embrace his impending baldness and thinning hair, and he just -- you know, he just didn't like the idea of doing all sorts of fancy comb- overs, so he just said, you know, take it off. And I admire his courage for doing so, and I think it looks great. And I know that he really likes it, too. So I was just happy...

KING: Has it grown on you?

COURIC: Yes, it has -- well, it hasn't really grown, but it has grown on me.

KING: It hasn't grown on him.

COURIC: Because every time it grows like that much, he's like, "Ooo, I got to get my hair cut." I'm like, "What? What are you going to cut?"

But, you know, I just was happy people were busy talking about his hair instead of mine, Larry, you know.

KING: Did you know that Al Roker was doing that surgery? COURIC: No. You know, I, sort of...

KING: There's another shock.

COURIC: Well, I thought that he had had gall bladder surgery. And, you know, things are private, and I love Al, but I'm not going to try to, you know, get in there into his personal life unless he offers it. And I did notice that he was started to shed all these pounds and how much thinner he was looking.

And I personally was very concerned for his health, first and foremost, when we went to the Olympics in Salt Lake City, because he was quite heavy, he's got bad knees. And I saw with my own eyes that he was having trouble getting around and was getting out of breath, and I was really concerned.

So I was so pleased and delighted for him when he started losing weight. And he looks just amazing. But more importantly, he's so much healthier and he feels so much better. And I'm just really proud of him.

KING: Do you like doing that "Will & Grace" thing?

COURIC: Oh, yes, that was fun. That was really fun. I was thrilled to have the opportunity. I love the show. Ellie (ph) absolutely adores that show. I don't really watch much television at night, to be honest with you, but I think that the whole cast is fantastic. And, you know, it gave me a fun opportunity to goof around and do something different with them.

KING: Do you ever think beyond "The Today Show"?

COURIC: Sometimes. Sometimes I think, gosh...

KING: You don't want to get up early in the morning forever.

COURIC: Well, you know, not forever and ever. I don't want to be going into the studio with a walker or anything.

But, you know, sometimes I think about different things that I'd like to do, and sometimes I think about, you know, getting out of television altogether and focusing more on cancer research or cancer fund-raising.

I don't know. I...

KING: Do you think you might wind up in the medical area? I mean, you know, when you're in your 60s?

COURIC: I don't know.

KING: Many years away.

COURIC: Yes. Not so far from now.

You know, I don't know. I'm excited and exhilarated by the opportunities that I think that I'll have, hopefully, in the future. And I've never, kind of, planned too far ahead. I, sort of -- I have always tried to enjoy the moment and have fun in my current job. I think when you're always looking ahead at what you're going to do next, that doesn't allow you to really enjoy and thrive in your current position.

But, you know, who knows what I'll be doing? Hopefully something exciting. Sometimes I think it would be so great to take a year off and spend more time just relaxing or taking a class and having more time to be with my kids or getting involved more in their school.

So I'm not sure what I'm going to do down the road, but hopefully something that'll be as fulfilling as what I'm doing now.

KING: Somebody you want on "The Today Show" or on the next Katie Couric special that you really want?

COURIC: Oh, yes, lots of people. I'm not going to tell you, though, because you'll be like, "Hello? It's Larry." I'm not doing that.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: So this contract is how long, by the way?

COURIC: I think I have about three more years in May -- three more years after that.

KING: Three more years from May. But it looks like you'll do more than that, though, right?

COURIC: Oh, you mean...

KING: After the three years are up.

COURIC: Don't you think it's a little early to be talking about my next contract?

KING: No, you're very young, you know what you're doing.

COURIC: Who knows? I don't know what's going to happen, Larry.

KING: By then you might be living in Boston.

COURIC: You know, Larry...

KING: OK. I'm not going to get anything out of you in that regard.

COURIC: No, you're not.

KING: All right, let's finally wind up with who's on the show again tomorrow night. Olivia Harrison...

COURIC: George Harrison's widow, that's right.

KING: ... Shania Twain and Sharon Stone. You lead with who? This is interesting...

COURIC: With Sharon. We're starting with Sharon. And then with Olivia. And then Shania. Sort of an SOS thing.

But, you know, we've put them in no particular order. We just thought that that would be a nice flow. And I really think that people will enjoy watching them. As I said, they all have extremely compelling stories to tell.

They've had magnificent careers. And Olivia, of course, was married to an incredible person and an incredible artist, and just, man, from everything I've gathered from what I've read and from talking to her.

And I had such a good time listening to them...

KING: Well, it'll show.

COURIC: ... I hope people will have fun watching that.

KING: Katie, thank you, as always.

COURIC: Larry, it's great to see you. I hate doing this via satellite; I like sitting across the table from you.

KING: I know. I know. Would you come out here, or I'll see you back there?

COURIC: OK, take care, thanks, Larry.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You can catch Katie tomorrow morning, and we'll see you tomorrow night. Kelly Marino (ph) will be the guest. She is the mother of the two boys in Florida convicted of killing their father.

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