NBC’s Savannah Guthrie has many more tomorrows on ‘Today’
During the commercial breaks on NBC’s “Today,” Savannah Guthrie’s eyes are often focused on an iPhone to check live video of her 5-month-old daughter, Vale, back at their Manhattan apartment.
“My husband is really into baby surveillance,” the morning program co-anchor said recently over lunch at a Rockefeller Plaza eatery frequented by NBC employees. “Which now, of course, I completely support.”
Guthrie can feel comfortable looking away from the TV monitors and teleprompters to steal some brief moments of maternal joy. Earlier this month, she received a major vote of confidence from NBC News with an improved and lengthened contract that will keep her at “Today” for at least an additional three years.
On Sunday, she will have the plum assignment of interviewing President Obama live from the White House during NBC’s pre-game coverage of the Super Bowl, likely putting her before more viewers than ever before. The previous two presidential Super Bowl interviews on NBC had been handled by her co-anchor, Matt Lauer.
“I hope to leave a favorable impression,” she said, failing to keep a straight face as she did.
For Guthrie, 43, the new deal is recognition of having successfully navigating one of the most tumultuous transitions in the 63-year history of “Today.”
She took over the co-anchor chair alongside Lauer in June 2012 after Ann Curry was yanked from the job after one year. Curry’s tearful sign-off was so emotional, there was talk in the “Today” control room about cutting the audio feed from her microphone.
Curry’s dramatic departure sparked a frenzy of negative press coverage — most of it aimed at Lauer, who never clicked with his on-air partner — and led to a downward ratings spiral. But none of the mud that splattered “Today” landed on Guthrie.
The former NBC News White House correspondent, who first joined “Today” in 2011 as a co-host of its breezy third hour, was still relatively new to the morning audience when the show imploded. While the meltdown story had legs and became a major distraction inside NBC, Guthrie did nothing to make it become about her.
“It required a delicate touch,” Guthrie recalled. “My own approach was not to go in there with guns blazing, saying, ‘Pay attention to me.’ It called for someone to come in, put their head down and do the work. I tried to be a credit to the show and not another problem.”
She already had a solid reputation at the network. “If you polled the entire phone directory of NBC, you wouldn’t come up with a negative word about her,” said “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams. The question was whether she could stand up to the fishbowl life of morning television.
Within the first year on the job, she passed the “9/11 test,” as TV news execs tend to call it. She spent hours at the anchor desk handling extended breaking coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. She did the same more recently with the terror attacks in Paris.
A former lawyer who is studious by nature, Guthrie took longer to make an impression as a personality. She isn’t the natural extrovert that Katie Couric was when she first emerged on “Today.” Nor is she an open book like another predecessor, Meredith Vieira.
Guthrie’s self-deprecating sense of humor can at times be as dry as the Arizona desert where she grew up. “One of the perks of the job is getting my hair blown out every day,” she noted during lunch. “If you saw my hair in its natural form, you would make it the lead of this story.”
But recent personal milestones — first-time motherhood at age 42 and a second marriage to corporate communications specialist Mike Feldman — have made Guthrie more accessible to viewers and strengthened her bond with on-air colleagues.
“To see how her life has changed has really been wonderful,” said Lauer.
Guthrie kept a blog about her pregnancy and allowed “Today” to use her experience as a hook to other childbirth-related stories. “I didn’t want to overdo it,” she said. “But we have a special relationship with the audience, so it wouldn’t be right to ignore it.”
Overall, Guthrie is proud of the content on “Today.” She believes the program is stronger editorially than it was when she first arrived, although she’d be in favor of more hard news and enterprise journalism in the first hour.
When asked why “Today” remains stuck in second place in the ratings behind ABC’s “Good Morning America,” she said, “Once people make a switch, it’s probably hard to get them to switch back. I feel good about our trajectory. You have to give them a compelling reason to come back, and maybe you have to give them time.”
Once that time passes, Guthrie could become the senior co-anchor on “Today.” Her new deal commits her to the program longer than Lauer, who signed a two-year extension in mid-2014.
Guthrie said she doesn’t want to ponder doing the show without the longtime co-anchor, whom she feels she can always turn to for advice.
“Matt’s really good at getting the tone just right, especially when it’s a delicate situation,” she said. “He makes it seem effortless, and that belies how hard he’s working.”
But their mutual admiration ends with their iPhone music playlists.
“She has terrible taste in music,” Lauer said of Guthrie’s fondness for the work of angst-ridden female singer-songwriters.
Guthrie can barely tolerate her on-air partner’s passion for the classic rock he grew up with in the 1970s.
“It’s like, ‘That’s great — I’m glad you made out with someone listening to Steely Dan, but that doesn’t mean we have to hear it every day,’” Guthrie said. “We have a lot of fun.”
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