Ann Curry is not an idiot, she just looks like one on TV. Because Ann Curry is an accomplished journalist and an excellent photographer, but a terrible actress. And the truth is, Today is a show. The anchors each have scripts, and roles to play. Ann Curry is miscast.
This morning, the New York Daily News ran a cover with the headline "ANN'S CANNED." The Times' Brian Stelter informs us that Curry wasn't expected to work today — Hoda Kotb was supposed to fill in — but Curry showed up and co-hosted, without mentioning the reports.
"Good morning," Ms. Curry said to begin the broadcast. "From hot to hotter. You thought yesterday was a scorcher? In many places in the East today, it's going to get even hotter."
A few minutes later, Ms. Curry wrote "Good morning" to her 1.2 million followers on Twitter - a mid-show message that she hadn't sent in more than a month. Dozens of her fans replied with affectionate messages and said they hoped that she wouldn't leave "Today." Within an hour, her name was a Twitter trend in the United States. She did not reply to any of the messages.
Hosting Today is not an easy job, a fact made all too clear by how poorly Ann Curry does it. She has problems asking straightforward questions, she gets overly dramatic and whispery as a way to telegraph gravitas, and she's awful at chit chat. In a piece for the Times, Mike Hale — who watched Today for a month in order to understand why the ratings dropped over the last year after a 16-year run at the top — puts it this way:
Ms. Curry can appear to be not entirely comfortable yet with the abrupt shifts in tone that are required of the morning-show host (and of which Mr. Lauer is a master), where the requirement is not just to be informed and smooth but also to recalibrate your emotional pitch for each new segment. Sometimes a reporter's doggedness shows through in situations where a more complicit, reassuring tone is probably what the morning audience, and the show's producers, would prefer.
When she's on location in the field — for instance, when she went to Darfur with George Clooney — Ann Curry is relaxed, focused, professional. In the studio, however, she generally comes off as awkward, fake, filled with false concern. Often, she doesn't ask questions but just makes breathy statements, and the subjects she's interviewing are baffled at how best to respond. Hale has a theory that since Curry spent part of her early childhood living overseas — in Japan — she's reserved. If she's a reserved person trying to be unreserved — as morning television would demand — that could explain the awkward, forced, smiling-with-her-mouth-but-not-with-her-eyes vibe that emanates from Ann Curry.
We cannot place all of the blame for the Today show's ratings on Ann Curry. Mike Hale reports that Today earns an estimated $250 million to $300 million a year for NBC, making it one of the most profitable shows in the television industry. Which means the anchor positions are some of the most highly scrutinized jobs, ever. So many intangible, unquantifiable qualities go into making a great anchor — it's all about co-worker chemistry, in addition to flexibility, vibes, gut reactions, auras and witchcraft. The anchor needs to be nimble, sharp, but weirdly normal, all while playing the part of unflappable, concerned, yet friendly and professional newsperson. As Hale writes:
There are moments in every show when you feel as if you're registering Ms. Curry's true feelings, and in the constructed world of the morning show that honesty can work for you or against you. It's one thing when we know that you're moved by the story of a sick child. It's another when we know that you're bored by and a little contemptuous of a visiting chef.
The Today show just doesn't play to Ann Curry's strengths. Cutting her loose might seem cruel, sad, and unfortunate, but someone so comfortable in the field, with truly impressive photojournalism skills (and it does seem like photography is her true love, more here) shouldn't be cooped up in a studio pretending to make biscuits with Martha Stewart or chasing the Octomom's kids around. Set her free, let her go, destroy the Ann Curry we know now so that a new, more authentic Ann Curry may rise from her ashes.
Morning TV's Stepsister Feels the Ratings Heat [NY Times]
NBC Made Contingency Plans, but Ann Curry Reports to Work at ‘Today' [Media Decoder/NY Times]