'Today' show drama focus of NYT report; NBC responds

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Image Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Everyone recalls Ann Curry’s teary departure from the Today show last summer — a culmination of weeks of rumors, and, it was later revealed, months of planning. And now a New York Times Magazine report released Thursday dives deep into the behind-the-scenes drama that led to her ousting and characterizes the morning show’s work environment as mean-spirited and filled with calculating moves.

For its part, a representative for the NBC show says: “We are focused on covering several major news stories this week and producing the best show we can for our viewers, not on year-old gossip.”

You can read the Times story in full here; the report is adapted from NYT media reporter Brian Stelter’s upcoming book Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV.

Some highlights below:

How important is being No. 1? When Today began shedding viewers millions of dollars in ad revenue went with them. In 2012, the year Today‘s 800-plus-week winning streak in the ratings was effectively ended, it “ceded about $50 million in advertising,” the report says.

Mean Boys? The story describes a “general meanness” on the Today show set during Curry’s tenure, and it describes behavior that could have been taken right out of a Tina Fey-penned comedy. “At one point, the executive producer, Jim Bell, commissioned a blooper reel of Curry’s worst on-air mistakes,” author  Stelter writes. “Another time, according to a producer, Bell called staff members into his office to show a gaffe she made during a cross-talk with a local station.” Bell is said to deny both both incidents. But one staff person goes on to recount an incident in which the control room Photoshopped a picture of Big Bird next to Curry, wearing a yellow dress, and asked co-workers to vote on “Who wore it best?” But the meanest alleged action of all?…

Operation Bambi’ was the code name Bell reportedly gave to his months-long plan to replace Curry with Savannah Guthrie. It stems from one person’s suggestion that firing Curry “would be tantamount to ‘killing Bambi,’” according to the story. Bell denies using the term.

In a worst-case scenario, Today could have had an entirely new morning host line-up. With Matt Lauer’s contract nearing expiration and then co-host Meredith Vieira preparing to exit indefinitely, the hesitant NBC brass is said to have given the co-host position to Curry for fear she, too, would leave the network if denied the position for a second time. (She had previously been passed over when Vieira was appointed.)  “…if Lauer left a year later, Today risked an existential crisis. It might have sounded like a paranoid chain reaction, but it was also a terrifying possibility,” the story says.

Lauer out? The article states that it “seems certain is that Lauer’s current Today contract will be his final one,” but only time will tell. In the meantime, the other thing you should know is that Lauer still meets up with former co-host Vieira for lunch.  No word on if they ate venison.

Related:
Matt Lauer on Ann Curry’s ‘Today’ departure
Morning shows speak with Boston bombing survivors, highlight heroes — VIDEO

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