Gumbel Tries to Clear the Air Over the Air

Times Staff Writer

“Today” co- anchor Bryant Gumbel tried to show a national TV audience Monday that he and weatherman Willard Scott are in peaceful co-existence by attempting a live phone interview with his vacationing colleague.

But technology failed them, Gumbel told viewers. He said that while he’d spoken with Scott earlier and the weatherman was ready to talk on the air, “we lost him” when NBC staffers tried to switch the call from the “Today” office to the show’s studio here.

The effort, which Gumbel said was planned as “our little surprise,” was made at the end of the show. Time ran out before contact could be re-established.

Gumbel’s call, made on his first day back from vacation, came in the wake of the publication last week of a 5-month-old memo in which he criticized several colleagues, particularly the high-spirited Scott.


Intended only for “Today” executive producer Marty Ryan but leaked to a reporter, the controversial memo said that Scott holds the show hostage “to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays and bad taste.”

The “birthday” reference was to Scott’s on-air birthday greetings to viewers who have turned 100 years old or older.

After the failure of his effort to interview Scott by phone, Gumbel wished the weatherman a happy birthday when the latter turns 55 today.

Gumbel, who declined to be interviewed after the end of Monday’s show, began the telecast by referring indirectly to the flap over the memo.

He thanked viewers for their calls of support, speaking for himself and on behalf of co-anchor Jane Pauley, Scott and film critic Gene Shalit. Shalit also was criticized in Gumbel’s memo, but Pauley wasn’t mentioned.

“We do appreciate your concern, and despite what you may have heard or read in recent days, we are together and, hopefully, we’re going to be with you for many years to come,” he said. “Now, that might come as sad news for those who have tried to capitalize on our differences, but rest assured that (the) ‘Today’ family is intact and still smiling, albeit through some pain.

“We’ll still be here long after the recent headlines are long forgotten. Enough said.”

After his failed on-air telephone interview near the end of the show, Gumbel said he had talked with Scott “on several occasions now since last Saturday,” the most recent occasion being before Monday’s broadcast went on the air.


However, the co-anchor didn’t say what they discussed or whether he had apologized for his sharp criticism of Scott in the memo.

Nor did Gumbel offer any on-air apology for the criticism, which Scott had said last week “cut like a knife.”

Scott, on a week’s vacation at Captiva Island near Ft. Myers, Fla., wasn’t immediately available for comment.