Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Begging for Ratings at the Today Show

It was a jarring sight – Matt Lauer sending it to a hospital for the birth of a child.

No, this wasn’t the future King of England. No, it wasn’t a celebrity baby. No, it wasn’t even the birth of anyone anyone had heard of. It was a child being born. Simply and truly, it was the miracle of life being beamed live into my living room.

today show birth
I nearly spit out my coffee.

Yes, in a desperate, pathetic and twisted attempt for ratings, the Today Show spent a week in late September showing babies being born. It felt like a bad satire attempt from the aging Simpsons. It was, in fact, the truth.

It was the last time I watched the Today Show over my morning coffee.

The ploy for ratings at once-dominant morning show continued late last week when Lauer and Al Roker underwent live prostate exams. While I applaud their efforts in cancer awareness, let’s not mistake this for its true purposes – another desperate attempt to gain viewers.

In a sick twist of TV fate, the Today Show’s cancer awareness ploy was upstaged, sadly, by Good Morning America. In October, to honor breast cancer awareness month, the female GMA crew got mammograms on live television. On Monday, Amy Robach announced that the mammogram revealed she had breast cancer and she was planning to undergo a double mastectomy.

I wanted to write about one show’s terrible ratings. I’ve ended up writing about breast cancer and live medical procedures.

If you haven’t heard, ABC’s Good Morning America has routinely and continually trounced the Today Show in ratings, by a nearly 1 million viewers on average. GMA won on Halloween for the first time in two decades. It is, by television standards, a stunning reversal of fortune.

Morning shows, like evening newscasts, are creatures of habits. I watch the NBC Nightly News every night I watch the news because, well, that’s what I’ve always done. There was a time when I flipped between Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings, but NBC’s overall news department always won me over. When the new generation of anchors came to be, Brian Williams loomed large over his contemporaries and still towers over Diane Sawyer and the painfully dull Scott Pelley.

On the morning show side, as my career got going after college, my mornings were spent in the newsroom. The Chronicle in Willimantic went to press every morning at 11am and that I meant I was furiously typing, just like I am now except at an ungodly hour. Getting to work before 7am every day after four years of hardly getting up before 11am was a brutal and unforgiving transition.

The newsroom had one television that was always on – oh the days before Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. That newsroom television, every morning, for the four-plus years I worked there was on the Today Show. We knew that it was mostly fluff but if news broke, or if there were updates from previous stories, that we trusted NBC, NBC News and the Today Show to be there for us.

I wondered, as I watched Matt Lauer fake awe and enthusiasm for a random childbirth, if that newsroom television was still locked in on the Today Show.

I imagine it’s not. And I imagine most people haven’t forgiven the show for its treatment of Ann Curry.
It has been a little more than a year now since one of the most brutal acts of employee termination hit the airwaves. Ann Curry, who had taken over for Meredith Vieira in June 2011, was about to get the ax. The Today Show had lost the ratings battle to Good Morning America in April 2012 for the first time, by a mere 22,000 viewers and Ann got the boot.

The fiasco played out on television like a sick, twisted joke. Curry was publicly flogged for the ratings. The new co-host, Savannah Guthrie, was on-air the whole time, waiting in the wings. On her last show, Curry cried, as she thanked her fans and tried to remain strong in the face of losing her dream job.

The post-mortem? The Today Show has continued to plummet like a rock in the ratings, shedding 600,000 viewers in the first year after Ann Curry debacle.

ann curry tears
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Curry became a Twitter cause célèbre when her “Acts of Kindness” campaign went viral. Prior to her public dismissal, Curry was simply the host of the Today Show. Since then, she has become a sympathetic figure and a symbol of strength – the embodiment of “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”

I thought of Curry’s Twitter campaign when the Today Show promoted its births on live television. What NBC wanted, Ann Curry was doing for no motivation. What NBC needed, Ann Curry had in spades.
I don’t watch the Today Show anymore. It made me queasy to see Savannah and Matt and Al yucking it up, acting as if they hadn’t murdered Ann Curry’s career in that very spot. Do they think we’ve forgot?

In addition to the medical procedures, the show brought in Carson Daly and a ridiculous “Orange Room” for the former MTV host to tell us what’s going on in social media.

Yep, the Today Show wants us to watch their television show to tell us what’s going on with Twitter. If you hadn’t guessed – that hasn’t boosted ratings either.

The latest news for the troubled show is that with Matt Lauer’s massive contract nearing an end, the search for his replacement is in full swing. Carson Daly, Anderson Cooper, Ryan Seacrest – the usual names have been bandied about.

It won’t matter. The Today Show, thanks in large part to its actions of 2012, is now a dinosaur. America wakes up with ABC and no amount of Anderson Cooper is going to change that.

Unless, of course, NBC wants to truly beg for ratings because there is one potential savior out there.

Give Ann Curry her job back.

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath either. Oh wait! I just thought of another Today Show bit – how long can Matt Lauer hold his breath before his passes out? Ratings!!

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