Katie Breaks Down Her Early Morning ‘TODAY’ Show Routine

katie couric today show

Take a walk in Katie’s TODAY Show shoes.

In celebration of Katie’s book release, we’ll be sharing exclusive excerpts that didn’t make the final cut. (There was too much good stuff to fit into one book!) This week, Katie breaks down her well-rehearsed morning routine from her TODAY Show days. Here’s how the magic was made, down to every last detail, from who woke her up to how she prepped for those big interviews. 

Preparing for the TODAY Show every day is a little like watching Santa’s workshop: Many moving parts, many hard-working people toiling away at all hours, all counting down to 7 a.m. Eastern Time. Graphics people would come in as early as 9 p.m. the night before. Lighting and audio crews would show up at midnight, especially if there was a big production like a musical act the next morning. The camera crew, who became like family to the on-air “talent,” showed up at 2 a.m. And the nocturnal creatures who had to will their circadian rhythms to get with the program would stumble in around the same time to sit in front of an almost Starship Enterprise display of monitors, panels, and soundboards. The director (almost always a man in my experience) had to be on his toes for the entire show and would come in around 5 a.m. 

My work started the day before. At around 5:30 p.m., a nice man named Henry would deliver what was known as “the packet” — a giant white envelope with the NBC peacock and your name in magic marker. The doorman would call and drop it outside the door. 

I’d open it up and shake out the goodies inside: the first thing I’d read would be the rundown for the next day — basically, who would be doing what. The big enchilada was the 7:09 segment called “Close Up” and was usually the big, heavy hitter interview of the morning, often an interview with a political figure. Those interviews in particular required a ton of preparation. A producer would print out articles, notes synthesizing the topic, and suggested questions all tucked into a Manila folder with 7:09 and the name(s) of the guest on them. Sometimes a producer would include a pre-interview so you would have an idea of how the guest would answer a question. 

If there was a late addition to the show, another packet would get delivered later that night. If there were overnight developments, a producer and I would update them in the morning. If there was breaking news overnight, the 7:09 would slide down later in the half-hour to accommodate the arrest/death/natural disaster/fill-in-the-blank.

My producers would send over folders with every segment I was scheduled to do. If there was an author I was interviewing, I would try to read a few chapters, but would often rely on the producer’s copious, meticulous notes. If I was interviewing an actor, I would go to a screening of the film the day before.

In the early days, I spent hours poring over information before these interviews. If the head of the FDA was coming on to talk about pesticides, for example, I would try to read and decipher the entire FDA manual on the subject before sitting down with him for a five-minute interview. Soon, I realized that spending two hours reading complicated scientific manuals and clinical studies wasn’t always necessary, so the night before I’d often track down someone who had expertise in that field. Often, Jay would help me untangle complicated legal issues (Jay would go on and on and I would say, “this is too detailed!” He would get exasperated with me and say, “I’m sorry! I don’t talk in soundbites!”).


In the beginning, I’d set the alarm. Then, to cushion the blow of waking up when it was pitch black outside, I started asking my driver Jack to give me a wake-up call. He was my human alarm clock, but quickly became my human snooze button since nine times out of 10, I’d groggily implore him to call me back in 15 minutes. Jack would become a trusted member of my extended New York family. His sleek black car, purring by the curb outside my building, taillights glowing red in the sleepy dawn, was part of my daily routine. 

I wouldn’t exactly bound out of bed. I’d stumble out groggily, sometimes afraid I was going to fall asleep in the shower. If you haven’t gleaned it by now, I am not a morning person. But I became one out of necessity, fear, and the promise of a sizable paycheck.  

I had to laugh when I watched The Morning Show. I related to Jennifer Aniston’s character, practically unconscious, trying to find her phone and turn the damn thing off. But the idea that she would wash and blow out her own hair, make coffee, and get on the treadmill seemed completely psychotic to me. Although I know George Stephanopoulos gets up a half-hour early to meditate and Al Roker does exercise in the morning, and prepares and packs his breakfast. Clearly, I win the hot mess award in the pantheon of morning show anchors.  

The longer I did the show, the later my wake-up call became, but not always intentionally. Once, in those early years, Jack’s car had broken down and he had asked someone else at his company to fetch me instead. He failed to tell the substitute about our morning ritual, so the new driver just cooled his town car in front of my apartment. I was in my usual fetal position when my eyes opened and I looked at the time on my digital clock:  6:38 a.m.! I sprung out of bed, combed my dirty hair, wiped away the smudged mascara under my eyes, and threw on a periwinkle pantsuit. I don’t even think I brushed my teeth (sorry, Bryant). I hurdled my bedraggled body into the studio at 6:58; it was my closest call ever. 


Every morning before the show, the studio and its surroundings were hopping with activity. The make-up room lights were annoyingly fluorescent, but the women in it were kind and spoke to you in dulcet tones as if you had the worst hangover in your life. We’d sometimes be there all at once before retreating back to our respective offices. Capes would go on, hair would be coiffed, faces would be painted, and you could close your eyes and have a moment of inner peace while clothes were being steamed.  

If the TODAY Show was like a family, Willard Scott was the slightly crazy but lovable uncle. Because of our shared Virginia roots, I felt a special connection to him. When I was a teenager, I spotted him buying batteries at Dart Drugstore on Lee Highway and approached him to say hi. I was so thrilled to see him and he couldn’t have been nicer. I couldn’t believe that I was now working with this larger-than-life legend.  

There was also an extended family of regular contributors. Martha Stewart became a regular about the same time I did. Her staff always seemed to be walking on eggshells (which is what they left when they tried to blow them out for an Easter segment — Martha was reportedly livid when they kept breaking them). She and I made for a funny pairing — she, the cool, calm domestic doyenne recommending a weekend activity of dipping candles while listening to Gregorian chants, me, the frazzled mom, forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning and trying to keep her shit together. She’d usually take all her creations with her after her segment was over. I did manage to make off with a huge ham she had left after a segment and served it to my relatives on Easter Sunday. I also kept a Christmas wreath fashioned from magnolia leaves for several years. 

Dr. Sylvia Rimm was our parenting expert. I will never forget the advice she gave me when Ellie was biting in preschool. “When you raise kids, think of the letter V in Love. When children are little, they are at the base with little freedom and not many responsibilities. As they grow, give them more freedom and more responsibilities. If you turn the V upside down, they start with too many choices and will resent rules and reasonable limits as they get older and essentially become spoiled brats.” I thought of that often as we were raising Ellie and Carrie, even if I wasn’t always successful. 

Sometimes Ellie or Carrie would come to work and toddle down the hallways where the staff would ooh and ahh and entertain them. When they got old enough, the girls would come to meet some of the celebrity guests. I’d even occasionally let them be just a little bit late for school. They met Destiny’s Child, Britney Spears, and Hillary Duff. In fact, one of the highlights of Carrie’s childhood was when she played a pint-sized waitress sitting on a stool at a 50s-style diner for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade with Hillary herself singing “So Yesterday.” When we did a segment on girls’ sports, her whole soccer team showed up and kicked the ball around in the Plaza.  

And the cooking segments! So much food! By 8:45, we’d be eating things like lasagna and chocolate cake at a time most people were scarfing down eggs and cereal, or chugging their smoothies. After the show, the food would be divided up and put on small plates so the entire crew could have a taste. 

The two hours would whiz by. I remember feeling so proud of the show, especially when it was operating on all four cylinders and served up intelligent, entertaining morning fare. On most days, it was. 


After the show, we’d often do post-tapes (interviews we’d “put in the can” to air another day). Sometimes a show would run over and we couldn’t fit the guest in live. Other times, there was a scheduling conflict and the guest couldn’t come in any other time.

When we weren’t doing post-tapes after the show, I’d retreat back to my office where I’d answer mail, respond to requests to MC charity events, help book big guests, talk to producers, review scripts for upcoming segments, and take off my shoes and try to unwind a little. 

But what was great about the TODAY Show was the flexibility it afforded me as a working mother. That’s something Jane Pauley had told me when she took me out to lunch when I got the job. “It’s the perfect job for a mom with kids.” I couldn’t be there in the morning, but if I needed to leave to pick Ellie up for a doctor’s appointment, go on a field trip with Carrie, and for the most part, just be available, I could. I remember leaving the show at 8:30 one morning so I could watch a school performance and telling Matt to be sure to share with viewers where I had gone. I wanted to encourage employers who might be watching to support parents who needed to be there for their kids. And I was really happy I was. 

For more behind-the-scenes stories from Katie’s career, preorder Going There and get tickets to see her on tour.