When Savannah Guthrie took the “Today"co-host chair Friday, it marked yet another shift in NBC’s venerable morning show lineup. But the journey — and the messy exit of Ann Curry — have left observers wondering what went on behind the scenes at NBC.
Network executives’ handling of the situation has been puzzling, especially on behalf of a top-rated show that tries so hard to foster emotional ties with viewers. TV host Deborah Norville (who was herself ensnared in a"Today” anchor drama in the early 1990s) said Curry appeared “truly wounded” during her farewell appearance. One newspaper described Curry’s breakdown as Lauer and others looked on uncomfortably — followed by Guthrie’s unremarked-upon appearance one day later — as “surreal.”
No mention was made of the circumstances on Friday’s show, with Guthrie — who already co-hosts “Today’s” third hour — merely taking her place alongside Matt Lauer on the sofa. Nor was Guthrie’s new role cited on-air. And it took hours after the show ended before NBC put out a news release on her new position.
NBC clarified that the new “Today” team of Guthrie, Lauer, Al Roker and Natalie Morales “officially debuts Monday, July 9.” “Today” has been the most-watched morning show for years in the U.S. but has lately lost ground to its main competitor, ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Bill Carroll, a vice president at Katz Television Group in New York, which advises local TV stations on programming and other issues, said the approaching Summer Olympics are expected to focus viewers’ attention on NBC, the broadcaster of the Games, and likely forced the network’s hand. But he added that the situation had nevertheless been handled badly for all involved.
“It’s been strange, to be kind,” Carroll said. “It’s like not telling the kids you’re getting a divorce and the next day, your girlfriend is there.”
The awkwardness also creates an additional hurdle for Guthrie, whom Carroll praised: “She’s young, she’s energetic, she has the credentials to do the hard-news element.”
Guthrie, 40, joined “Today” a year ago as co-host of the third hour and as chief legal correspondent. A lawyer by training, she covered the White House for NBC from 2008 to 2011.
She’s also young enough that she can speak the lingo of younger viewers — a fact probably not lost on network executives always worried about appealing to that demographic. Last month, during a bouncy commencement address at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Guthrie congratulated the class of 2012, then quickly added that she was tweeting her message as well.
“Sorry, but with your generation, if you don’t tweet it or send it to Instagram, it’s like it never ever happened,” she said.