Saturday, May 31, 2008


I've always harbored a crush on Katie Couric. I don't know why.

Then again, I've never watched a full episode of the "CBS Evening News," where she took the reins after leaving her decade-plus post as the Woman of My Dreams co-hosting "The Today Show." (Which I also watch way too much, and which I still hold fast to the hope of working for someday. Call me, Lauer!)

No, Katie was a Morning Girl, the kind of woman you wanted to wake up to, with a perky smile and a giant plate of ham and eggs awaiting you each morning (ok, the ham and eggs were part of the fantasy. I'm a big guy.) And so, as much as I think her replacement Meredith Vieira has spunk to spare and is also fun to watch, there's been a void in my life ever since the day Katie hopped networks.

But then, yesterday, she returned! You can see a brief snippet of that appearance on "Today" right here: was only a few moments, but they were precious indeed.

You may think I'm going overboard here, but like John Lennon once said, "I'm not the only one." The first episode of the WB teenybopper classic "Dawson's Creek" featured Dawson admitting he "waxed the dolphin" while watching her. (I will not lay claim to THAT. Publicly at least. I'm a gentleman, for crying out loud!) And if the title character and romantic lead of a WB show admits to a crush on a real-life figure, then dammit, you know that it's gotta be a fairly common thing in real life!

So anyway, back to Katie...(or I should say, "But I digress.")

One of the greatest days in my life happened in the summer of 1995, when I went to New York City with my beloved brother and sidekick Lud (you can read more about him in my other blog here, "Snap Judgments and Bad Decisions.") We wanted to get on the "Today" show with a sign, but we weren't with a group and had nothing to promote.

Finally at 1 in the morning, with about 7 hours til we had to make a mad dash across Midtown to get to the outdoor "Today" crowd at Rockefeller Center, I thought of the perfect sign.I grabbed a cardboard box and tore off a side. We ran to a convenience store and purchased markers. And by 2 a.m., we had a sign crudely marked "Free Willard."

This, of course, was a dual pop-culture reference and therefore particularly impressive. We were both mocking insane weatherman Willard Scott's corpulence as well as the cheesy children's flick "Free Willy." We made our way into the crowd and held the sign high. Thank God we were tall - and even more so that then-cohost Bryant Gumbel hated Willard Scott with a passion - for when the cameraman zipped past us, we heard Bryant on the monitor exclaim, "What was that?! Go back to those guys!"

Sure enough, the cameras trained on us again. We were in heaven! Bryant and Katie were doubled over laughing, afraid to fully explain the sign to those viewers who were culturally retarded. And it was time to go live to Willard himself in Washington DC as he recited his 100-year-old Living Corpses of the Day.

Willard didn't look too pleased. He had a glazed, 1000-yard stare and a steely, thin-lipped smile. But he broke into a maniacal grin after a second and said, "Ah, free Willard! I love it!" before cutting back to a still-guffawing Gumbel and Couric.

I felt it was The Greatest Moment of My Life. THIS is what I had gone to college and perhaps even why I was born.

And yet, it got better. They kept showing us at every commercial break through the final half hour of the show!And then afterwards, as we triumphantly walked away, I was videotaping giant photos of the "Today" cast (Ann Curry is also scrumptious!) when Lud noticed Katie herself was across the street talking to someone. I turned, saw my quarry, and ran full speed with my camera in hand towards her, with both Lud and I saying "Katie! Couric! Wait!"And she amazingly did.

She told us she loved our sign but couldn't specify why. (Hmmmmm). She posed for a video with us, chanting "Free Willard!" three times. And then she signed our precious slab of cardboard. She finally had to go, but we knew we had a new daily mission: to take that cardboard all over New York City that day and see how many people recognized us from the "Today" show. (OK, we're fame junkies. Whores, even.)

From Grand Central Station to the Statue of Liberty, the UN Headquarters to the Empire State Building, we took turns holding that sign with pride as the other would secretly film crowd reaction from a distance. We were hits! Anyone who recognized us got to sign our cardboard memorial of that day, and by the time we were threatened with deportation from Liberty Island for alleged harassment, we had about 50 signatures.

We held onto that sign with pride for years. Lud, in fact, may still have it. But our video from that day faded over the years, leaving us only with precious memories that, like a child's lost youth, moved on too fast.Katie, I hear it's not going so good at CBS. So when the hammer falls, come back to the "Today" show! Or at least come over to my place and fix me some ham and eggs with a smile.