NBC’s storied "Today" was once an iconic giant of morning television, but a devastating collapse in viewership last week left the show with its smallest audience in at least 30 years.
"It’s a total fiasco," a longtime network news veteran with knowledge of the program’s inner workings told Fox News.
"The show has lost its role [as a] cultural touchstone," the industry insider added. "There are obviously bigger industry trends at play but the show is a non-factor."
"Today" averaged 2.9 million viewers during the week of July 12-16 to mark the first time NBC News’ flagship program failed to surpass the three-million viewer threshold since at least 1991, when ratings became easily accessible.
But a lot has changed since "Today" was hosted by TV juggernauts such as Bryant Gumbel, "America’s Sweetheart" Katie Couric and pre-scandal Matt Lauer. The days of celebrities relying on network morning shows for promotion are long gone, Americans have more options and "Today" lacks the cultural relevancy it once possessed and rarely makes news as a result.
NBC’s "Today" has averaged 3.2 million viewers in 2021, a 10-percent drop from its 2020 total viewership. ABC’s "Good Morning America" is also down nine percent but has averaged 3.4 million to edge "Today" for the most-watched morning show. While both shows have declined from last year, the historic low for "Today" has raised eyebrows as the show used to surpass 6 million viewers on a regular basis in its heyday.
"Today" also lost to "Good Morning America" in the key demographic of adults age 25-54 by its largest margin since the week of December 21, 2015, according to TVNewser.
Among the low points for "Today" over the last decade was the wrenching departure of fan favorite Ann Curry, who was forced out in 2012. Her awkward, teary, on-air goodbye was a sore spot for the prestigious franchise, and her exit was plagued with rumors that Lauer disliked and sabotaged her.
Lauer remained the show’s biggest star until he was fired in 2017 at the height of the #MeToo movement, further damaging the show’s legacy. Current hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, along with bit players such as Craig Melvin, Carson Daly and Jenna Bush Hager, haven’t resonated with Americans the way their predecessors did.
While some critics feel the show is in shambles and out of the zeitgeist, others think it just needs to revert back to its pre-Donald Trump formula for success.
"Like countless other outlets and shows in recent months, the ‘Today’ show has seen their number of watchers decline considerably since President Trump left office, even as they continue to focus coverage on the former president," freelance writer Drew Holden, who has made a name for himself on social media by calling out liberal bias and media hypocrisy with lengthy, often-viral Twitter threads, told Fox News.
"For years, ‘Today’ invested in ginning up political outrage to grab eyeballs, at the expense of trying to understand the storylines and topics that people are actually interested in," Holden added. "Non-stop political coverage may've helped juice the numbers for a while, but at the end of the day, it isn't what people want from ‘Today’ or most other shows like it."
DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall doesn’t blame Trump, but he feels "Today" simply doesn’t offer viewers what they want to consume to start their day.
"After a bruising 2020 election year and the depressing coverage of COVID, it is no wonder that viewers don't want to start their day with news shows, even with the chatty features sprinkled in," McCall told Fox News.
"Frankly, the news agenda is hardly more positive in 2021, with crime, border problems, inflation, and COVID variants needing to be covered. Audiences are exhausted and it is difficult for smiling morning hosts like Savannah Guthrie to put a happy face on this dismal news environment. It is worth noting that the total viewers for ‘Today’ are less than half of what the show drew twenty years ago when Katie Couric was the star of morning news."
The historic ratings drop came at an awful time for the Peacock Network as it gears up to air the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Typically, interest in NBC’s multi-billion dollar investment sends viewers flocking to the network for feel-good stories and on-location reporting ahead of the games.
"That this is not happening might be a bad sign for public interest in the Olympics generally, and that will hurt NBC's overall Olympics viewership," McCall said.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.