New York magazine posted its cover story expose about NBC's "Today Show" Sunday night and boy is it a doozy. Joe Hagan chronicles the decision to push Ann Curry out of the anchor chair, Matt Lauer's role in the "hosticide" and the show's attempt to bounce back from the PR disaster that ensued. If you followed the controversy, or even have a passing interest in the TV morning show game, the article is well worth your click. Hagan's profile holds no punches:
Hagan calls the 2011 decision to install Curry into the anchor chair "the choice by process of elimination" citing money and contract issues, and well as a power struggle at NBC's top executive levels. "The irony of the current situation is that almost no one with an eye for live television thought that Curry, all things being equal, was a natural for Today's couch," he says.
Hagan also reveals that internal research actually reversed conventional wisdom, and showed that Lauer—not Curry—was the host losing appeal with viewers. Hagan even quotes an NBC exec saying of Lauer, "He was looking aloof, a little bit holier-than-thou, and pompous."
As ratings began to slump and news leaked that execs were considering replacing Curry, Lauer's position too was in question, as he flirted with ABC about joining a daytime talk show with former "Today" co-host Katie Couric. Lauer also was angered by rumors that NBC was considering Ryan Seacrest as his replacement, which he first heard while stuck outside the White House for a Christmas party because Curry forgot to bring her ID.
Lauer eventually turned down the ABC show, secured a new two-year contract with NBC—the most generous in morning television history—and attention concentrated on Curry. "At the moment when he had maximum leverage with NBC, Lauer, as the multimillion-dollar megastar, could easily have saved her—but he didn't," says Hagan, adding, "Which doesn't make him a horrible person—it makes him, for better or worse, a pro."
Nevertheless, ABC's "Good Morning America" began surpassing "Today Show" in the ratings, breaking its 16 year reign as the top morning show. News that host Robin Roberts was suffering from MS only fueled GMA's momentum. Execs even told Curry—at this point already demoted from host to correspondent—that she was not allowed to Tweet her sympathies to Roberts lest she appear to be "aiding the enemy," according to Hagan.
Hagan recounts Martha Stewart's visit to the show, during which she discussed with Lauer her lawsuit with Macy's, and in a later segment the two cooked meatloaf. Lauer appears tough in the lawsuit interview, but Stewart had been able to prepare for his specific questions, says Hagan. He ends the anecdote with this zinger: "Fifteen minutes later, Lauer is asking Stewart whether over¬mixing the hamburger and the bread crumbs might make the meatloaf too dense. This isn't his first meatloaf session."
Also brought up in the profile was the rumor that Lauer and correspondent Natalie Morales had an affair, the bizarre pranks Lauer played on the cast (one of which made Curry cry), and Lauer's antagonist relationship with New York Times reporter Brian Stelter, who covered much of the Ann Curry controversy while working on his book about morning television,
The New York magazine profile comes as the "Today Show" was already facing criticism this week for hosting a filmmaker who wishes to exonerate Joe Paterno for his involvement in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. The morning show aired an exclusive interview between the filmmaker and Sandusky Monday morning.