More than once, Tom Brokaw has recalled the morning in 1981 he was called upon to interview twentysomething starlet Charlene Tilton. Then appearing as Lucy Ewing on “Dallas” (and now back again, in its TNT revival), Tilton wanted to talk about a diet she was on. Brokaw’s attention strayed as he wondered, reasonably enough, what any of this had to do with journalism.
His conclusion: nothing. Within months, he had bolted from his five-year stay at “Today” for the anchor chair of “NBC Nightly News.”
But this sort of wake-up call and a decisive response to it is rare.
Matt Lauer, the undisputed driving force of “Today” in his 16th year as its anchor, can handle legitimate news as well as anyone on TV. But enthroned at “Today,” he also seems game for any manner of piffle.
In May, he was saddled with interviewing reality-stars mom-manager Kris Jenner, there to plug the new season of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” on NBC sister channel E!.
Jenner was coy about spilling any actual details of the upcoming season (her purpose was to tease “Today” viewers, not enlighten them), and Lauer played along.
“I’m gonna be so proud of this interview at some future date,” he said, tipping his hand that he has standards. But it was all in good fun as he joked that “this is a resume tape waiting to happen.”
No such “resume tape” is needed. Lauer isn’t going anywhere. This spring he agreed to a long-term contract to stay put at “Today.” Why not? In terms of star value, salary and clout, following Brokaw’s long-ago path to “Nightly News” would be a step down for Lauer in 2012, even if he had a mind to engineer it.
Make no mistake: “Today” is a huge, profitable, powerful enterprise, which may have helped Curry think that what she does there automatically has value. And now she understandably may wonder how she failed.
Hasn’t she done everything asked of her? So far this week, she has interviewed both leads of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” handled a cooking segment, debriefed a show-biz journalist for a segment called “What’s Up: Celebrity,” and pitched in for her program’s day-after-day coverage of bullied bus monitor Karen Klein _ on Tuesday, Curry welcomed the Greece, N.Y., grandmother to Studio 1A.
Besides, how do you measure Curry’s day-to-day performance when morning ratings are skewed by an ever-escalating arms race of stunting between “Today” and “GMA,” where, in the first two hours when they go head-to-head, no gimmick is spared and no retaliatory strike is too outrageous (witness Sarah Palin snagged as a “Today” guest host in May to blunt the anticipated audience spike when Katie Couric guest-hosted on “GMA”).
Never mind. “Today” has stumbled. Curry apparently will take the fall.
Already, a guessing game is under way for who will replace her. Savannah Guthrie, who co-hosts the four-hour extravaganza’s third hour, is poised at the top of the list of Curry’s possible replacements.
But beware: A quarter-century ago, Deborah Norville was vaulted to the anchor desk beside Bryant Gumbel, which left viewers thinking she had pushed out the beloved Jane Pauley. This led to a backlash from her sympathetic fans, with “GMA” the ratings beneficiary. Little more than a year later, Norville was gone.
Now, with “GMA” already trading weekly wins with “Today” after its 852-consecutive-week supremacy, following Curry as “Today” co-host may not be such a plum assignment.View Entire Story
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