NEW YORK >> There’s a danger in planning a news-oriented television series a year in advance.
But circumstances smiled on Katie Couric and her six-part National Geographic channel series, “America Inside Out,” which premieres this week. Some of the topics she chose to explore, like gender inequality and racial attitudes as reflected in the debate over Confederate statues, became more prominent after she started working on the series.
Couric and a crew were filming the episode about Confederate monuments that kicks off the series this week in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, and attended a rally by white supremacists that turned violent.
“While I had these ideas last spring, so many of them have intensified and even exploded into the public consciousness in a way that I never anticipated,” Couric said.
The series is an outgrowth of Couric’s special on gender fluidity that aired on National Geographic last year. Both Couric and National Geographic wanted to explore other issues with some depth; the series also looks into what it’s like to be a Muslim in America; white working-class anxiety; how technology is affecting humanity; and the new rules of political correctness.
Couric even copped to some of her own bad behavior in the technology episode, revealing a smartphone reliance that is only getting worse.
Interviews are heavily featured, from the likes of Julianne Moore, Viola Davis, Elisabeth Moss, Aasif Mandvi, Roseanne Barr, Cornel West and others. The episodes offer a nuanced look at some meaty issues that are not often examined to this extent on television.
“The one thing that I’ve always enjoyed doing, and I hope have been pretty decent at, is to be able to look at stories, these disparate stories, and sense a trend or a big-picture change,” Couric said.
The veteran television personality said it’s important for people to get out of their own bubbles and speak to people who aren’t necessarily like-minded.
“I still have a lot to learn,” she said. “I think we all have a lot to learn. I think we should admit that, and we’d probably be a lot better off.”
To that end, she logged plenty of miles in reporting for the series. She visited communities in Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Iowa for the episode on white anxiety, toggled between Hollywood and Silicon Valley for the story on gender inequality and touched down on college campuses to learn a new glossary of “PC culture.”
National Geographic hasn’t broached the idea of making “America Inside Out” a regular series for Couric, nor is she certain about whether she would want to do that.
After her years in the network trenches as “Today” show host and “CBS Evening News” anchor, she’s built a varied portfolio. She does a weekly podcast and is working on some scripted projects that she’s reluctant to talk about yet. She can pick and choose, like she did recently with a temporary assignment hosting the Winter Olympics opening ceremony for NBC.
“Sometimes I miss being in the middle of it all,” she said. “But then I remember being frustrated by being in the middle of it all and not being able to do deep dives on important topics. So the grass is always greener. I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend a few months doing the kind of journalism I wish there was more of, frankly.”