Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ann Curry forced out of Today show: a return to first place?

A lot of people have been comparing the recent rumours that Ann Curry will be forced out of her job as  co-anchor on NBC's "Today" to the predicament Conan O'Brien found himself in back in January 2010. Curry and O'Brien, both established NBC personalities, spent years waiting to take a job that as it turns out was never really given to them. Both were paid large sums of money to walk away from NBC altogether. And at their helms, both took shows that had for years been outrating their competitors by comfortable margins into second place.

But the clearest similarity I can see is that both O'Brien and Curry were wrongly promoted to jobs they were ill-suited for.

To say that "Conan got screwed" out of "The Tonight Show" is a little unfair to me - sure NBC botched the hell out of that, but O'Brien should have never been given that job in the first place. "The Tonight Show" is for old people - people in their 50s, 60s, even 70s. The median viewer age for Conan's current TBS late night show is about 32.

Curry's appeal on "Today" has very little to do with age, however. The annals of Today show history feature journalists who not only report hard news, but also have a playful side to have fun with their co-hosts and report lighter, morning show fare. Your Pauleys, Courics, Gumbels, Laurers, Vieiras, and more that are less memorable at the moment. Curry is not one of these people. She's a phenomenal journalist and reports great stories from all over the world...but have her banter for thirty seconds with Matt Lauer? Oy. Not good.

So it's no surprise that for the first time since December 1995, "Today" finished second to ABC's "Good Morning America" back in April. Which is why it's maddening to read the Today show's official Facebook page, inundated with comments from fans claiming that NBC is making a mistake letting her go (they're not making a mistake letting her leave "Today," but they are making a mistake not finding a way to pay out her remaining multi-million dollar contract and keeping her at the network) or that "the fans should vote". Sorry, folks, but the fans have voted - it's called Nielsen ratings? Those things that "Today" lost when Ann Curry took over for Meredith?

I don't begrudge Ann Curry's journalistic skills - quite the opposite; I admire them greatly. But there were reasons, the ones explained above, that NBC went with Mrs. Outside Hire when Katie Couric left the show in 2006. There has been some history of Today's news readers jumping into the co-anchor chair, both successfully and unsuccessfully - Matt Lauer being the successful example, and Deborah Norville being the unsuccessful example. And in a couple short hours, Ann Curry will also join the ranks of the unsuccessful.

You kind of have to wonder though if her reported replacement, long-time "Today" correspondent Savannah Guthrie, will return NBC's morning flagship to its glory days. I'm sure she will have better chemistry with Lauer, be a little more open to having fun on the show than Curry, and be able to stop the bleeding. But in 2012, when national morning shows are far from the only place a person can get their first news updates of the day, is it possible for a new morning show fixture to be created? Katie Couric was long heralded the queen of mornings, but technologically the world was certainly a different place in 1991 or even as late as 2006. 

It seems though that NBC is only focused on the top prize - first place in the weekly ratings - and in an environment where somewhat redundant morning show ratings are dwindling, being "number one" is all you (well, your PR people) can really aspire to these days.