Jon Friedman's Media Web
Ann Curry is getting thrown under the bus6/27/12 12:01 AM ET (MarketWatch)
Reuters'Today' show hosts Ann Curry and Matt Lauer appear on set during the show in New York last week,
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Ann Curry of NBC's "Today" is getting thrown under the bus.
By all accounts -- especially those of the omnipresent New York Times -- "Today" is trying very hard to exile co-host Curry.
The melodrama has spiraled into a full-fledged media circus. Adding to the spice, it's occurring at a precarious time for NBC, which is worried about its hold on the morning-television sweepstakes.
Even if you loathe Curry, you have to feel sympathy for her.
What makes Curry's fall from grace seem somewhat astonishing is that Curry, 55, became the co-host of "Today" just one year ago. She replaced the widely admired Meredith Vieira in the co-host job, the culmination of Curry's 14-year career on the show.
Curry has been accused of acting too seriously for a breakfast-hour audience that craves fluffy news. Critics suggest that she has lousy chemistry with Matt Lauer, the show's biggest star. Following that logic, one of them has to go, for the good of the program, and it won't be Lauer.
OK, OK, let's get down to business. What's probably going on here is that NBC is nervous about its ratings prospects.
NBC is used to ranking first in the ratings in the three key news variables: morning, evening news and Sunday morning. The success of "Today" and "Nightly News," in particular, help NBC to prop up its sagging fortunes when prime-time ratings are taking a hit. Its revenue outshines its rivals. In 2011, "Today" surpassed "GMA" in revenue, posting $484 million to $298 million at "GMA," according to Kantar Media.
What's "Today" doing wrong? It's a matter of perception. And as tennis star Andre Agassi once sagely noted: image is everything.
When you watch "Good Morning America" and "Today" side by side, the differences are palpable. The ABC crew genuinely enjoys appearing together on the tube. The "Today" team, by contrast, seems at times to force their smiles and it gives the impression that their interactions are somewhat akin to being in a dentist's chair.
Is Curry a scapegoat? Is it all her fault now? NBC has reportedly offered Curry $10 million to walk away.
"Today," which invented the morning TV structure six decades ago, has seen ABC's (DIS) "Good Morning America" gain ground and even accomplish the unthinkable: pass "Today" in the ratings for a few weeks this spring.
What would it say about NBC if Curry eventually got the bum's rush because she exhibited traditional journalistic skills and instincts?
Besides, what did NBC expect, anyway? Curry has been a mainstay long enough for the brass to recognize her strengths and weaknesses.
Are we viewers supposed to believe the chatter that she is, all of a sudden, a bad fit on the show?
Does anybody except the most gossipy journalist actually believe that line of reasoning? Doesn't NBC deserve some of the blame here?
As one TV news executive told me the other day, NBC passed over Curry once -- to make room for Vieira after Katie Couric bolted to CBS from "Today." Why was Curry suddenly so appealing when she had not gotten the job, in the first place?
NBC might well part ways with her over this flap -- and still continue to have a ratings deterioration. Television is a momentum business, and the viewers vote with their eyeballs every single day.
If they decided that Robin Roberts of "Good Morning America" was more likeable than Ann Curry or that GMA's George Stephanopoulos was more statesmanlike than Matt Lauer, a slide would be inevitable at "Today."
"Good Morning America" has patiently and shrewdly played its hand. It has assembled a collegial group of morning-hour journalists. They show a jovial, cooperative spirit and don't give the viewers the impression that there is even a whiff of tension on the set or behind the scenes.
Their camaraderie serves to present a calming image to the public -- and allows ABC to gain credibility with the audience.
If "Today" is regarded as having a cutthroat environment, then the viewers may want to change the channel. Outside of the odd scoop here or the coveted celebrity-interview grab there, both shows -- as well as the third offering on rival CBS (CBS) -- tend to trundle out the same headlines, Hollywood gossip and Washington intrigue.
The difference is in the presentation of the news.
NBC has fallen out of love with Ann Curry. That's why she's got to go.
And, as Walter Cronkite used to remind us nightly: That's the way it is.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Is Ann Curry getting a raw deal by NBC's "Today?"
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