Jack Shafer

Turning the morning news into soap opera

Jack Shafer
Jun 21, 2012 21:50 UTC

Ann Curry, the second fiddle on NBC’s Today show, is apparently being shown the door. That news was broken yesterday afternoon by Brian Stelter, the prolific media reporter of the New York Times on the newspaper’s website, and that 1,100-word story earned prominent placement on Page One of the business section of this morning’s paper.

I’ll forgive you in advance if you don’t care whether Curry continues on Today or if you don’t care whether she finds a slot elsewhere in the NBC empire, just as long as you forgive me for not giving a fig either. It’s not that I dislike Ann Curry or Today‘s first fiddle, Matt Lauer, or even Today‘s morning-show competition. It’s just that I dislike the shows for being dulled-down messes of news, entertainment and talk. If I watch any of them, it’s by accident.

My lack of interest in the morning-show mix puts me in the majority. Today, which is usually the number-one-rated program, and ABC’s Good Morning America, which took that position a couple of times this spring, draw an average of fewer than 5 million viewers. The third-ranked show, CBS’s This Morning, pulls in a little more than 2 million viewers. In a country of 311 million, that’s minimal interest.

The length and placement of Stelter’s piece, on the other hand, conveys a level of importance to Curry’s rumored departure that’s hard to justify. Stripped to its essence, the Curry saga might justify a 300-word short about Today‘s recent ratings volatility, Lauer’s alleged estrangement from Curry, and NBC’s judgment that she wasn’t as good a co-host as predecessor Meredith Vieira, all leading to her impending exit.

Instead, Stelter serves an extended story packed with anonymous sources – ”some at NBC,” “some staff members,” “people with knowledge of the negotiations, who insisted on anonymity because the matter was confidential,” “several people who know Ms. Curry,” “one of the people” who know Curry, “friends” of Meredith Vieira, and “one of the people with knowledge of the negotiations” between Curry and NBC – that makes the departure of a TV co-host sound like the final days of Richard Nixon. How much of the anonymous dancing is Curry’s people spinning her story and how much of it is NBC framing the ouster as necessary strategy to save the show is anybody’s guess.

Morning prayer: CBS’s latest last-ditch attempt to beat GMA and Today

Jack Shafer
Nov 16, 2011 23:10 UTC

You could fill a graveyard with the bodies that CBS has posed in front of its morning show cameras over the decades in its ratings pursuit of NBC’s Today show and ABC’s Good Morning America. The latest dead-anchors walking, appointed yesterday by CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, are Charlie Rose and Gayle King.

Wikipedia stacks the names of former CBS morning show hosts like cordwood. In the 1950s, Walter Cronkite, Jack Paar, John Henry Faulk, Dick Van Dyke, and Will Rogers Jr. helped chair the show. When Cronkite was anchor, a segment was devoted to a lion puppet named Charlemagne discussing the news with him, as this picture proves. Cronkite remembers his cotton colleague warmly, writing in his biography, A Reporters Life, “A puppet can render opinions on people and things that a human commentator would not feel free to utter. It was one of the highlights of our show, and I was, and am, proud of it.”

In the 1960s, hosts Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner were fed to the morning band-saw, and in the 1970s, John Hart, Hughes Rudd, Bernard Kalb, Bruce Morton, Faith Daniels, Lesley Stahl, Richard Threlkeld, and Washington Post Style section sensation Sally Quinn were similarly sacrificed. (Nora Ephron interviewed at the same time as Quinn for a co-anchor slot and luckily lost.)