After working at NBC for 22 years, one day last month, Ann Curry entered the building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and couldn't find her employee badge. Remarkably, this was a problem.
According to a piece by Brian Stelter in today's New York Times:
The guard looked at her quizzically.
“Name?” he asked.
“Ann Curry,” she said.
Then, after a moment. “A-N-N.” Pause. “C-U-R-R-Y.”
True, she was wearing a trench coat and a hat. But still: There's crazy shit going on behind the scenes at the Today show. Brian Stelter's book, Top of The Morning, which takes a look "inside the cutthroat world of morning TV," hits stores next week. You may consider Today — like many morning progams — to be alternately informative, insipid, cheesy and comforting, but it's not to be taken lightly: The show rakes in $500 million in annual revenue for NBC. In today's article for the Times, in addition to the Ann Curry/security guard incident, there are a several weird, uncomfortable and bizarre revelations. For instance: Though the show tries very hard to appear a cheerful, fun AM hangout, the truth is darker. For instance, the Ann Curry departure:
So insistent was [producer Jim Bell] that Curry was the problem — that she was “out of position,” as he put it in an e-mail to his deputies — that he had been talking about it with friends for months. One morning-TV veteran suggested to him that firing Curry, who had been co-hosting for only about six months at that point, would be tantamount to “killing Bambi.” Undeterred, Bell hatched a careful three-part plan: 1.) persuade Lauer to extend his expiring contract; 2.) oust Curry; 3.) replace her with Savannah Guthrie. According to this source, Bell called his plan Operation Bambi.
Stelter points out:
Though it is created largely for women, the business is, even now, managed mostly by men, including those who like to think in terms of war, sabotage and embarrassing James Bond-like names for things they do in the office. It’s also marred by the striking effects of sleep deprivation: paranoia, hot tempers, rash decisions. It probably doesn’t help that morning hosts are, almost by definition, multimillionaires, making far more than the producers they supposedly work for, and far, far more than the staff members who toil for them at 5 a.m. It’s a situation unusually conducive to resentment.
Also, when Ann Curry left last year, was there a PR team in place to handle the gossip, rumors and blowback? Well, yes… If by team you mean one person:
[Curry's] weepy departure on June 28 would have been a P.R. crisis for any network, but it was doubly bad for NBC, which employed just one dedicated P.R. person, Megan Kopf, to oversee all of “Today” — its stars, correspondents and producers. (Kopf was also trying to deal with the fallout while planning her wedding.)
Audiences at home were not the only ones who realized that something was amiss after Curry's awkward ousting. The other Today show hosts felt like the show needed fixing:
During this tumultuous period, NBC commissioned Sterling Brands, a consulting firm, to diagnose what exactly had gone wrong at “Today.” Sterling interviewed Lauer, Guthrie, [producer Jim Bell] and nine other senior staff members anonymously, in order to keep their assessments private. The results turned out to be damningly frank. One of them said that “our sense of family is broken.” Another said, “Matt is being blamed, and some in our audience see Savannah as the younger replacement wife.” Another interviewee suggested that Curry wasn’t the only problem, saying, “People were leaving for the content, too.” But the most revealing comment had nothing to do with Curry at all. “If I look at the show,” one of the 12 people said, “I am not sure I’d know what year it is. I want to feel like we are watching 2012.” The staff members also went after “Good Morning America,” but they were honest about the competition’s strengths. “They look like they are having more fun,” the report concluded.
Stelter doesn't even go into the other behind-the-scenes rumors, like the one about Matt Lauer and Natalie Morales having an affair, or the one about how Matt Lauer fathered one of Natalie Morales's kids — or the one insisting that Savannah Guthrie fell in love with a married TV producer who left his wife for her. Stelter does address the rumor that Anderson Cooper was being considered to replace Matt Lauer — and it was not just a rumor: Pat Fili-Krushel, chairwoman of the NBCUniversal News Group, called Cooper up:
…Cooper and Fili-Krushel had actually met for coffee and discussed a role for him on “Today” — not this year, but perhaps in 2014. According to one person with direct knowledge, one option called for Cooper to overlap with Lauer for 12 months, allowing for an orderly transition.
Stelter writes that it "seems certain" that the current contract Matt Lauer has with Today is his final one. After Matt signed his most recent contract, Stelter saw his wife at a party, where Annette Lauer's wife snapped, “Two more years, and then he’s mine.”
But Ann Curry remains the saddest part of the story. Was she a problematic cohost? Definitely. But the way NBC let the narrative roll out, the network seemed cruel, she appeared to have been thrown under the bus, and the whole thing was painful and embarrassing. Apparently since getting the boot, she's been stuck in some kind of weird limbo over the past, filing reports for NBC but working from an office on the 26th floor while all of her old coworkers at Today are on the 3rd floor. She cried while reading email and Twitter messages from fans, Stelter writes:
She was overwhelmed by condolences. “It feels like I died,” she told colleagues afterward, “and I’ve seen my own wake.”
On Today's Facebook page, the first comment on a picture of the current hosts reads "I miss Ann Curry!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Earlier: Everyone Hates Matt Lauer