April 18, 2013 11:26am PT by Erin Carlson
'Today Show' Drama: 5 Buzzy Revelations About Ann Curry's Messy Exit
The Today show is officially turning into a telenovela.
As the NBC morning show struggles to reclaim its No. 1 status from ABC rival Good Morning America, a dishy new report by Brian Stelter in The New York Times Magazine (an excerpt of his forthcoming book, Top of the Morning) has exposed more details on Ann Curry's messy departure, which ultimately caused a loss of ratings and ad revenue at Today and tarnished the reputation of once-popular co-host Matt Lauer.
Reached by THR, a Today spokesperson said: "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."
Here are the five most eye-catching revelations from the story:
1. Former executive producer Jim Bell allegedly dubbed the plot to oust Curry "Operation Bambi." Dead-set on pushing out Curry and replacing her with Savannah Guthrie, Bell executed a plan that gained momentum when Lauer signed a lucrative new contract. He took Curry to lunch at a fancy French restaurant, ordered multiple bottles of wine and tried to sell Curry on the idea of transitioning into a "global anchor" role that would allow her to focus more on the serious news she wanted to see more of on Today. Just when Curry was beginning to accept Bell's pitch, the New York Times reported the strategy to remove Curry ahead of July's Olympic Games, which were broadcast on NBC. Crushed, Curry "basically shut down," Stelter writes. After her tearful on-camera goodbye on June 28 of last year, Bell and other high-level Today producers toasted the success of Operation Bambi. (Bell denies using the code name, as well as many of the dishier details in the piece.)
2. Katie Couric considered Curry to be "fake." Known for her ambition, Curry would lobby to sub in for Couric when she was away. According to Stelter, "Couric didn't appreciate Curry¹s eagerness. Producers said Couric thought Curry was melodramatic and, in a word that one used, 'fake.'" (In a recent cover story on Today's decline, New York magazine reported that Couric used to tease Curry about her clothes, remarks that didn't go over well with the sensitive newsreader.)
3. Many execs inside NBC News never thought Curry had the personality for the co-host gig. Noticing a lack of rapport between Lauer and Curry when Curry would fill in for Couric, Neal Shapiro -- then president of NBC News -- attempted to thwart a potential co-anchor promotion by crowning Curry host of Dateline NBC. He hoped to make room for possible Couric successors such as Hoda Kotb and Natalie Morales. "I don't think anybody back then thought Ann was right," Tom Touchet, formerly executive producer of Today, calling Curry a "wacky chick" with a "great heart."
4. The names of outside-the-network talent Bell pursued. When Meredith Vieira was preparing an early Today exit in 2011, Bell met with Fox News' Megyn Kelly and also expressed interest in GMA's Robin Roberts, Stelter reports. Meanwhile, ex-NBC News boss Steve Capus -- who has had a contentious relationship with Bell -- was pushing for Curry to replace Vieria. Bell gave in, having no "better option," an insider told Stelter.
5. Curry's reaction after signing off: "It feels like I died, and I've seen my own wake." That's what she reportedly told colleagues amid a media frenzy -- and outpouring of support -- over her ouster. So far, she hasn't gone public with her side of the story. Her silence might have something to do with her new NBC contract worth a reported $5 million-plus per year. In Stelter's view, it was "partly granted, no doubt to guard against the impression that she was fired and to encourage her to keep any hurt feelings to herself and not share them with any of the publishers lining up for a tell-all book."