Published March 27, 2013
NBC’s “Today” show drama reads like a novel. With plot twists and turns and secret villains, New York Magazine dissects the downfall of the “Today” show, providing sordid new details about the ousting of Ann Curry and NBC’s efforts to rebuild. Here are the 10 ugliest revelations from the NY Mag cover story:
1. Bullying Ann
The article paints a tough behind-the-scenes experience for veteran reporter Ann Curry before she even landed her coveted—and short lived—seat on the “Today” show couch.
“In the past, [former ‘Today’ host Katie] Couric would sometimes tease her about her clothes, remarks that Curry took badly. When Lauer and ‘Today’ producers tried to ‘punk’ the rest of the cast one morning… Curry was infuriated with Lauer and retreated to her dressing room. Roker, her longtime friend, was sent to comfort her.”
2. Curry was unprepared
When talks began about ending Curry’s hosting gig on “Today,” she was reportedly caught off guard and not equipped with a proper lawyer and agent to negotiate for her.
“Curry, without an agent, was doing her own bargaining…. Lauer began to do damage control. Over lunch at The Four Seasons, he advised Curry to get an agent so she could resolve her situation and openly worried that the timing of her exit would lead people to believe he’d forced her out during his contract negotiation.”
3. NBC staff not fooled
But Lauer lending Curry a helping hand at the last moment was perceived to be a last-ditch effort to save his own reputation, and even the NBC staff wasn’t buying it.
“Everybody at NBC, everybody at the ‘Today’ show, everybody understood that Ann was kicked out of her position because Matt didn’t want her there,” says a prominent NBC staffer. “That’s why it was so personal between Ann and Matt.”
4. That fateful day
Once Curry knew her days at “Today” were done, she took control of the situation. In a move NBC now likely regrets, they let Curry write her own last lines.
“Curry wrote her own copy, telling [execs] she wanted to ‘speak from the heart.’ That same night, Lauer called in to ask, ‘So when am I taking my cyanide pill tomorrow?’”
5. Holding grudges
After her uncomfortable departure, Curry wasn’t ready to kiss and make up with her former co-host. The tension between Lauer and Curry continued and played out awkwardly.
“In late July, when Curry was assigned to cover the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, she refused to appear on the air with [new host Savannah] Guthrie, believing [producer Jim] Bell was trying to exploit the event for image repair.”
6. NBC’s paranoia
NBC was supposedly so concerned about its image, execs barred Curry from sending an ailing “Good Morning America” host her well wishes.
“When Robin Roberts left ‘Good Morning America’ a month later to get treatment for MDS, Curry asked NBC if she could tweet a note of sympathy for the ABC co-host. NBC said no, afraid she was trying to aid the enemy.”
7. Love for Al Roker
Following Lauer’s tense response to Curry’s ousting, and Al Roker’s seemingly obvious on-air jab at the network for “throwing her under the bus,” viewers gravitated to the bubbly weatherman. Researchers for NBC discovered Roker was quickly gaining a bigger fan base, and subsequently decided to lend him more air time.
“’People told us, ‘I love that Al Roker,’ [producer Alexandra] Wallace told New York mag. ‘So they’re getting more Al Roker. It’s not an anti-Matt thing at all.’”
8. Making it look easy
Since “Good Morning America” has been beating the “Today” show in the ratings, NBC has been carefully trying to make their on-air interviews appear effortless and flawless. The article describes a morning where Matt Lauer seemingly breezily interviews Martha Stewart on live TV.
“But the interview isn’t as tough as it appears. The questions he asks are the ones Stewart was prepared for, and both Lauer and Stewart benefit from the appearance of a sharp exchange.”
9. More changes on the way
And NBC is by no means done doing damage control. The network is working to reshape the show’s image with more upbeat, feel-good stories.
“This summer, ‘Today’ will have a brighter, warmer set, getting away from the smoked-glass-and-taupe stage it has now, which Wallace acknowledged was too ‘cool.’”
10. Backup plan
But if that doesn’t work, or if Lauer decides to ditch the floundering show, network execs reportedly have some contingency plans.
“NBC News executives have already had conversations about who might fill ¬Lauer’s seat if and when he leaves, and there is indeed informed speculation inside NBC that Lauer could leave within the year. -MSNBC’s Willie Geist, the Morning Joe anchor who also appears in the third hour of ‘Today,’ is often mentioned as a replacement, but so are others, including Good Morning America’s Josh Elliott.”