It was a painful five minutes to watch: Ann Curry’s voice cracking, her eyes filling up as she said good-bye to the Today Show and a dream. NBC President Steve Capus would tell the Hollywood Reporter that Today was “not where her real passion was. In her heart of hearts, I think she would admit that.” Ann Curry’s heart spoke loud and clear Thursday morning, and it called Capus a liar.
The most painful moment for America’s most successful Asian-American broadcaster came when she apologized for failing those who hoped to follow her. “And for all of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I’m sorry I couldn’t carry the ball over the finish line, but man I did try.”
In five minutes, Ann Curry was finally able to do something she was unable to do since they had named her co-host to Matt Lauer a year ago. She made us love her. It is why NBC is getting so much criticism from viewers and TV critics for botching the Ann Curry departure. The network deserves it, as the whole ordeal was handled so poorly.
First, there were the leaks that forced Curry through a gauntlet of rumors and speculation for almost two weeks. In an interview with Ladies Home Journal, Curry shared the strain of those final weeks. “It’s hard not to take it personally. You worry, am I not good enough? Am I not what people need?”
She is obviously not what Capus needed or wanted. Curry may have not known it, but the NBC News president had put her on a one-year probation when he gave her the main job. “We gave her a year to prove herself, and ultimately we came to the conclusion that she had played at the highest level she could,” Capus told the Hollywood Reporter. “When you’re in the major leagues of our profession, you’ve got to continue to be at peak performance in order to stay there.” Ouch. Nothing like kicking someone once more after you kick them out.
In describing Curry’s lack of interest in doing lighter segments on the show, specifically cooking segments, Capus said something that unintentionally gives clarity to a fleeting, awkward moment in the Curry good-bye. “Dan Rather used to say the camera never blinks,” Capus said. “Well, this is an HD world now, and the camera picks up everything.”
It certainly picked up the tension between Ann Curry and Matt Lauer. Watch at the end of good-bye video to see Curry recoil when Lauer grabs her neck and kisses her head. Notice the difference in her reaction to Lauer and the others on the set. Capus is right. The camera does pick up everything.
When Meredith Vieira left Today after just five years, they dedicated an entire show to her. Matt Lauer hosted a half-hour “best of” reel and then popped on an “I Heart Meredith” t-shirt and lip-synched Journey’s “Small Town Girl” to her. After 15 years, Curry got five minutes, a peck on the head from Lauer and a kick in the pants from Capus. The couch was still warm when Curry’s replacement, Savannah Guthrie, took her seat less than 24 hours later. Fridays before a big holiday are usually reserved for an announcement of bad news from the White House, not the debut of a national morning show co-host. It was an admission from NBC that the entire ordeal is messy.
I like Savannah Guthrie. She is a smart journalist with an endearing personality. She has covered the White House and filled in brilliantly on Meet the Press. A lawyer, she will continue to be an NBC legal analyst. She is smart enough to know that she got a great job in an awful way. That was painfully apparent when she returned to Meet the Press on Sunday, just two days after Today soft-launched her as host. Here is the transcript of David Gregory introducing her:
GREGORY: We’re so happy for you, and I know that the Today Show viewers are going to embrace you so warmly. This is just great for NBC News.
GUTHRIE: Well, thank you very much.
GREGORY: You’ve got to be excited about it.
GUTHRIE: I’m very excited. And excited to talk about the Supreme Court this morning.
GREGORY: No, we’re not going to move on. We just want to talk about this.
GUTHRIE: We are wasting precious time we could be talking about the Supreme Court decision.
I told you she is smart. She knows the curse of Deborah Norville, who was vilified after NBC handled the transition from the popular Jane Pauley to Norville awkwardly. You don’t want to be the person who replaces someone viewers believe was treated unfairly. This happened in Philadelphia with my wife Dawn Stensland, who ruled the ratings at 10 p.m. for years, and was unceremoniously showed the door by Fox 29 to make way for Kerri Lee Halkett. Halkett lasted less than a year, through no fault of her own. She was put in an untenable position. Fox 29 has not recovered and is on its fourth woman co-anchor in four years.
Why is it almost always the woman anchor who is blamed for poor ratings? The old boys’ club is still alive and well in TV as 90 percent of the general managers and vice presidents are male. They golf and joke with the male anchors and replace the women anchors like surrogate second and third wives. For example, Ukee Washington has been a fine anchor for CBS 3’s morning news for a little over a decade. In that time, he has averaged a new woman co-anchor about every year and a half, as the ratings have risen and fallen.
This is not to say that Ukee or any male anchor should be fired or that women should keep their jobs at all cost. But newscasts that report on equal treatment and equal pay for women should start with their own sets.
Here is wishing both Ann Curry and Savannah Guthrie the best. If the ratings for Today keep sliding, I hope they take a long look at everyone on the set, not just the women.