It looks like, once again, top executives at the Peacock Network come out looking pretty bad in the wake of a major on-air talent change. Over the past several days, rumors and leaks were fueling news of Today Show co-anchor Ann Curry’s impending departure from the show. And it seemed pretty clear that Curry was not moving on of her own accord.
The news coverage served to point more attention to the slip Today has had in the ratings, as rival Good Morning America has gained viewers. Today still leads in overall viewers, though.
NBC’s PR people seemed not to have much to say, as rumors flew and The New York Times’ Bill Carter broke the story of the network’s decision to replace Curry. We read that Curry had hired a high-powered entertainment lawyer to represent her for the first time in her business dealings with NBC. But nothing from NBC, at least officially, that there were any discussions or why they were considering moving Curry out of the co-host chair. It was starting to look like a smaller replay of the Conon O’Brien fiasco. Once again, NBC was looking like the big bad meanie beating up on a much-loved employee.
Only after Curry’s tearful on-air farewell did a top NBC exec explain the changes, in a Hollywood Reporter interview. And once he explained the reasoning behind the move, readers could understand the logic and see it wasn’t simply a knee-jerk reaction to ABC breaking Today’s decades-long lead in the morning ratings race.
But NBC looked bad because they waited too long to explain themselves. And the resulting focus by the news media on Today’s slipping ratings has come at a bad time for NBC’s sales people, as the upfront TV sales market was still ongoing. It caused some media buyers to push harder for lower ad rates for spots on Today.
An opinion piece by Joe Queenan in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, though, helped put all of this into a better perspective. We shouldn’t feel too bad for Ann Curry, as much as we might like her. She’s been pushed out of her dream job, which is sad for her, but she still has a job at NBC News… and it’s a very well-paying one. She hasn’t been laid off; she still has health coverage; her home is not in danger of going into foreclosure. She is not among the 8.1 percent (or more) of unemployed Americans.
But it’s interesting how NBC’s failure to handle this news with the media made the story get headlines and stay in the headlines for a longer period. Maybe they’ll do a better job when they decide to fire their next high-profile personality, or whenever they decide (again) it’s time for Jay Leno to move on.