The news that Ann Curry’s departure from The Today Show may be imminent is just the latest in the endless tinkering and recalibrating that morning news shows go through to maintain ratings leads. But the Today Show situation is particularly interesting right now. It occurs at a time when two things are happening for NBC: Its chief competition, ABC’s Good Morning America, is going through a ratings growth-spurt, and NBC will soon be deeply involved in covering the Olympics, for which The Today Show always plays a crucial role. Plus, the question of who might replace Curry revives an hoary old paradigm that ought to be exploded: The Myth of the Pretty Woman as Audience Alienator. So, some unsolicited advice about replacements and other Today Show matters:
1. Savannah Guthrie would probably be an excellent choice. While I don’t want to make light of the possibility of anyone losing her or his job, if Curry leaves Today, the reported odds-on favorite to replace her is Guthrie, and that would be a smart move. Guthrie has proven a charming addition to the mix, especially in the 9 a.m. hour, where a lot of the potentially-deadly lifestyle/fashion/cooking segments are stuffed. She listens to guests and isn’t afraid to abandon her notes to ad lib questions, and unlike Curry and news-reader Natalie Morales, she seems to more frequently get Al Roker’s jokes and pop-culture references, and have a good time on the set. You may say, “Yeah, but can she handle hard news, breaking stories?” Well, she is the network’s chief legal analyst, and who knows how she’ll do on breaking-news until she’s tested? She certainly won’t be worse than Curry in this area, since the latter tends to become dismayingly oleaginous during serious human-interest or disaster stories. As it stands, Guthrie has displayed an easy chemistry with Matt Lauer, and anyway, a comparatively small percentage of morning-show time is devoted to hard news. And don’t give me that comparison to Deborah Norville, who was thought to have put off the female demo with her supposedly come-hither make-up and glammy style, and lasted barely more than a year on the job — Guthrie radiates more of an affable, kid-sister vibe with a plucky side. (Never underestimate the conscious or unconscious sexism in either firing or hiring, though, kids.)
2. Remember your heritage, Today Show: No, don’t bring back the chimpanzee J. Fred Muggs, but do recall a well-liked team player whose role has never been replaced. I’m talking about Gene Shalit: Hire a movie critic, someone to review pop culture in a lively, opinionated way, and get him or her to elicit opinions from the rest of the Today team and the viewers. Hiring a witty, tough movie critic would be an immediate, easy way to distinguish Today from GMA.
3. Ditch the “Today’s Professionals” segment. I’m sure this advice will be ignored, because I’ll bet NBC could show me research saying this is a popular segment. I still say it stinks, and it’s eating up too much (sometimes as much as an hour!) of Today Show time. Asking regular panelists like Star Jones (who’s often sniffily condescending) and Donny Deutsch (who’s unbearably smug) their advice about the frivolous controversies of the day (“Bus Monitor Bullying”! “Is House Hunters Fake?”!) is a tedious waste. (Again, Guthrie, who often has to host these segments, manages to puncture some of the gassy ego balloons in the studio here.) (Oh, and have to say I like Dr. Nancy Snyderman, no matter what she does.)
4. Give Al Roker a raise. I don’t care how much he’s being paid, this guy is money in the bank: Always fast on his feet, always ready with the right reference or quip. In the pantheon of weather-guy personalities, he’s already in the Hall of Fame.
For More: ‘Today’ preparing to drop Ann Curry