While NBC News has been battered by bad publicity over its suspended evening news anchor Brian Williams, the division is seeing new ratings daylight in the morning.
For the week of May 18-22, NBC's "Today" was No. 1 among viewers ages 25 to 54, the demographic advertisers want to reach with news programming. It's the second straight week that "Today" has topped ABC's "Good Morning America" in the category, according to Nielsen figures, and the third win in the last five weeks.
"GMA" still leads NBC's "Today" in overall viewers. The ABC program averaged 5.1 million viewers for the week, compared with 4.7 million for "Today" and 3.5 million for "CBS This Morning." NBC's win in the 25-to-54 demographic was by a margin of 70,000 viewers.
While "Today" has been closing the ratings gap in the 25-to-54 demographic, the show has not had back-to-back weekly wins in the category since January 2013, excluding the weeks NBC was in Olympics coverage.
Some insiders at the network noted the latest win may be slightly influenced by the revelations that "GMA" co-anchor George Stephanopoulos made donations of $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, the charity run by the family of former President Clinton. Stephanopoulos has apologized, calling the donations a mistake, especially since the foundation has become an issue in former First Lady Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
After the story broke on May 14, a number of media critics and Republican leaders raised concerns as to whether Stephanopoulos, a former top aide in the Clinton White House, could effectively cover the 2016 presidential campaign. Stephanopoulos, who is also chief anchor for ABC News, said he would not moderate a Republican primary debate that the network is scheduled to carry next February because his contributions to the Clinton Foundation could pose a distraction.
The story appears to be having no impact on Stephanopoulos' ability to cover the race. He had the first interview with Rick Santorum after the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania announced his plans to pursue the Republican nomination again.
While Stephanopoulos' misstep is the first negative publicity of any kind for "GMA" since it took hold of first place in the morning ratings race in September 2012, an ABC News executive not authorized to speak publicly about the matter said, "there are no conclusive numbers related at all to George." This executive noted that "GMA" was first in the ratings in the three days after Stephanopoulos apologized on the air.
NBC may also be seeing a payoff from personnel stability in the morning, when viewing is more habitual than any other time of day.
Despite a myriad of rumors about changes to the program over the last two years, the core on-air team of Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales and Al Roker has remained intact since the messy departure of Ann Curry back in June 2012.
NBC News executives should also take some solace in that the negative press over Williams, who was suspended Feb. 11 over false statements he made about his reporting during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, has not had an impact on the network's other programs.