From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Katie Couric could have kicked back. After leaving the CBS Evening News last spring, her terrifying schedule eased up. And suddenly, after 33 years of being on TV, there was time to goof off before starting her new daytime talk show, Katie, which debuts Sept. 10. But Katie Couric doesn't goof off. "I wasn't sitting at home eating bonbons," she says in her new office on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Instead, she blasted through bestsellers (right now she's on 50 Shades of Grey), did killer spin workouts and yoga sessions and rose with the dawn to get ready for her new gig. "I did save a lot of money on makeup," she offers. "But I'm not one to slack off." Not even a little? "I'll grab chocolate-chip-cookie dough from the freezer and go to town," she says. "But I work pretty hard, so when I do have pleasures, I don't feel guilty. I'm too old to feel guilty about anything!"

That sentence is punctuated by Katie magic-eye twinkle; cheerful blast of laughter. And after a year in which she lost her beloved father, quit TV news and broke up with a boyfriend, it's good to laugh. Prepping for Katie "is exhausting but exhilarating," says the mom of Ellie, 21, and Carrie, 16, with late husband Jay Monahan. "I am excited to start doing it-and not just talk about it."

Although Couric, 55, had planned to leave CBS at the end of her contract, it sparked rumors that poor ratings had done her in. "There were great expectations for me going into that job that were probably unrealistic," she says. When she debuted as Nightly News anchor in 2006, viewership spiked to 13.6 million but soon declined back to around 6 million. Despite the stress, the job "was a very positive experience. I'm really glad I did it."

At the same time, she coped with the death of her father, John, 90, after his long battle with Parkinson's disease. "I was very lucky that I had the time off to be with him and help my mom," says Couric. She's been there before: losing her sister Emily to pancreatic cancer and Monahan to colon cancer when he was 42. Friends say positivity is her great strength. "She doesn't let anything get her down," says pal Wendy Walker. "She's had her share of tragedies, but she accepts every challenge that comes her way—and takes it head-on."

That includes romance. After breaking up with her boyfriend of five years, entrepreneur Brooks Perlin, last December, "I thought, it's important to me to go out. I'm always excited to meet new people and have a social life. I think dating is fun, actually." In April she began dating financier John Molner, 49, but is tight-lipped about their romance. "I'm having a lot of fun," she says. "I enjoy that part of my life."

For now, work comes first. In addition to Katie, she'll return to morning TV as a guest host on Good Morning America. "It's hard for me, because I'm happy ABC is doing well," she says. "But I have a lot of loyalty and affection for my friends at the Today show." That includes Ann Curry, ousted as Today coanchor in June. "For whatever reason, they felt it was the right thing to do," Couric says. "I feel terrible for Ann."

But the new Katie is focused on tomorrow, not Today. As promos for her new show flash on one of five office TV screens, Couric shields her eyes. "Ooh! Aaah! Yay!" she squeals, peeking between fingers. "Even after all these years, I still get excited," she says. "Fingers crossed!"