NEW YORK — Harry Connick Jr. is a man of many talents, not the least of which is plunking nearly three dozen grapes into his mouth at once.
"Thirty-two, 33, 34," chants the cackling, mostly female crowd at a September taping of Harry, the actor/singer's genial foray into daytime television (premiering Sept. 12, check local listings). Connick grinningly tackles the fruitful endeavor, posed to him by a fan during the show's "Hey, Harry" segment.
"Really? How am I supposed to be cool?" asks Connick, 48, standing on a sleek, white soundstage as a producer brings over a bowl of grapes. "This is really high-quality entertainment."
Part talk show, part musical variety series, the syndicated Harry hopes to end the recent losing streak of big names such as Katie Couric, Tyra Banks, Queen Latifah and Meredith Vieira, whose low-rated daytime bids were axed after one or two seasons.
In the past few years, "introducing talk shows in daytime has been a pretty precarious undertaking," says Bill Carroll, senior VP of content strategy at Katz Television Group, which represents local stations. "You're often going against established talk shows or daytime offerings that have been around for over a decade. It's a much more competitive environment, because you're not only competing with broadcast television, you're competing with cable and (digital platforms). It's a different time than when Oprah (Winfrey) or Ellen (DeGeneres) came on the scene."
But Connick doesn't consider Harry a daytime show, he says, seated in a green room at the CBS Broadcast Center, where the NBC-owned series is taped for airing on major-market Fox stations and elsewhere. "I think of it as a party, and it just happens to be coming on in the middle of the day. There's nothing that I'm doing that is daytime-like on purpose."
Still, at least a few segments would feel right at home on Ellen or Steve Harvey. Between audience banter about Halloween costume ideas and annoying one's spouse (Connick's wife, Jill, was a recurring topic), the affable host was heavy on human-interest stories. He sat down with a New Jersey elementary-school teacher who went viral with her encouraging messages to students, three of whom surprised her onstage. Later, Connick reconnected with a woman who not only shared his birthday, but his New Orleans hospital room as newborns.
"It's amazing to watch him with a studio audience; they go crazy with this guy," says Ted Harbert, chairman of NBC Broadcasting. "It's a very loose format. If he wants to go out during a segment and talk to someone, he will."
During premiere week, Harry will trot out celebrities including Sandra Bullock, Renée Zellweger and Terrence Howard, whose Empire set Connick visited in Chicago for a behind-the-scenes exclusive. Sometimes, he and his band will rope guests into a performance, as he did with Today's Savannah Guthrie for a piano duet. Others, he'll walk into the audience and start crooning a jazz standard.
"His core audience is right in the sweet spot for daytime, which are women (ages) 25 to 54," Carroll says. An American Idol judge and Broadway star, Connick is "a talented, unique personality, but he still faces the same issues any new shows face, which is he's on (during the) late afternoon and often as a news lead-in. That's not the easiest task."
But the Grammy-winning showman says he's up for the challenge.
"The way I look at it is, you do something wholeheartedly with as much effort as you can and do it passionately," Connick says. "If it works, great. If it doesn't, you move on to the next thing."
Contributing: Gary Levin