THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media
As the top-rated morning show for more than 850 weeks, Today wields a unique power over the American conversation, often setting the news agenda for websites and other outlets. It’s no wonder, then, that the show is the go-to stop for celebrities promoting their latest projects and for politicians who want to get their message out to Today’s more than 5 million daily viewers.
For Today’s hosts, the goal is to conduct an interview that illuminates aggressively without antagonization. “Audiences respect that, unlike other morning shows and evening entertain- ment programs, no one gets a free pass on Today. You have to answer the questions,” says Bell, 44. “And I think that Hollywood stars respect that, unlike certain websites, we aren’t looking for a ‘gotcha’ moment, either.”
Bell came to Today in 2005 from NBC Sports and has shepherded the show through the transitions from Katie Couric to Meredith Vieira and, most recently, Vieira to Ann Curry. He is credited with strengthening the show’s news reporting while incorporating the celebrity and multiple-birth stories that make it a must-see for a primarily female audience.
He also presided over the show’s expansion to a fourth hour. Industry insiders initially questioned the need for yet another 60 minutes of the franchise, but it has become a pop-culture hit, with co-hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford’s wine-infused antics earning regular parody on SNL and elsewhere.
These days, Bell also is pulling double duty as the executive producer of NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics in London, which means he’s in the Today control room at the crack of dawn (a car picks him up from his Connecticut home at 4:30 a.m.) and often in Olympics strategy sessions well into the evening.
A married father of four boys ages 9 to 16, the former Harvard defensive tackle knows how to handle the tough spots. “A defensive lineman gets hit on every play,” says Bell. “It’s good preparation for morning television.”