Is the Sun Going Down on 'Today' Without Jane Pauley?

From Associated Press

These are tough times for NBC's venerable "Today" show, the program that invented the morning TV format.

Last week it lost in the ratings to ABC's "Good Morning America" for the ninth consecutive week and it lost the February "sweeps" to ABC for the first time since November, 1985.

Is the sun going down on "Today"?

"Today" ratings began declining with co-host Jane Pauley's poised and public departure from the show after 13 years. Her replacement, CBS newswoman Deborah Norville, apparently reminds some women of their least favorite college roommate.

"The 'Today' show has experienced a serious decline, about 15% on average, since Deborah Norville took over," said David Marans, head of media research for the J. Walter Thompson advertising conglomerate.

"There was a clear reaction to the change in casting," he said.

CBS' morning efforts generally have run a distant third in ratings almost since the network began competing with "Today" in 1954.

In February, "CBS This Morning," dumped co-anchor Kathleen Sullivan in favor of ex-ABC newswoman Paula Zahn. The change has posted a barely discernible improvement in ratings.

ABC, keeping the same cast before its cameras, won the No. 1 spot without significantly increasing its ratings.

"It takes a long time to develop a team," said Jack Riley, executive producer of "Good Morning America." "It takes an even longer time for the audience to accept it."

NBC officials insist that they're not worried about the numbers.

"We knew there was going to be a drop in the ratings for the 'Today' show," said NBC research chief Bob Niles.

"The good news is that we were pretty good about forecasting it. The bad news is we didn't want to see those numbers."

Niles said a similar ratings dip occurred after Bryant Gumbel replaced Tom Brokaw as co-host in January, 1982. For the next two years, ABC beat "Today" like a gong. One week in August, 1983, "Today" finished third for the first time.

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