October 31, 2013 2:06pm PT by Marisa Guthrie
'Today's' Top Entertainment Booker to Exit (Exclusive)
Melissa Lonner, the veteran Today booker responsible for the NBC morning show's summer concert series, will leave the show by the end of the year, multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.
Lonner had been a senior producer and Today's entertainment booker, tasked with securing Hollywood celebrities and A-list musical acts including Justin Bieber, Adele and Coldplay for the show's popular outdoor concerts at Rockefeller Center plaza. NBC News sources tell THR the decision was mutual. But a source close to Lonner said she opted not to renew her contract, which is up at the end of the year.
Lonner had built a reputation as an intense and hard-charging booker over several years at the Today show. But the department was restructured in spring 2012, with producer Matt Zimmerman elevated to oversee an integrated and expanded booking unit.
A Today spokesperson declined to comment on a "personnel matter."
Lonner's exit is the latest in a series of personnel and content changes for the once top-rated NBC morning show. Last summer, Rob George was tapped to become the show's director, replacing Joe Michaels, who had held the job for 18 years. Michaels was upped to senior director and assigned to oversee the show's redesigned studio, unveiled last September. The new studio -- which features orange furniture accents, a rotating anchor desk and a social media nook hosted by Carson Daly (called The Orange Room) -- was well on its way to completion by the time NBC News president Deborah Turness was installed last summer. And Turness has stressed that the set is but a cosmetic improvement while the show's tone and content, including top newsmaker interviews, is far more important.
The show also has segued to an ensemble format and away from the traditional male-female co-host configuration with Al Roker, Willie Geist and Natalie Morales playing bigger roles although Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie remain the A anchors during the 7-9 a.m. hours.
Meanwhile, ABC's Good Morning America last September marked an entire season as the No. 1 morning show among total viewers and the critical 25-54 demographic. And a little more than 100,000 viewers separated GMA and Today in the 25-54 demo for the third-quarter ratings period.
At NBC News, the Today show is the "first, second and third priority," NBCUniversal News Group chairman Pat Fili-Krushel told THR during a recent interview. But she also preached patience: "[These shows] fall fast and they build back slowly -- we know that." And while she said she would like Lauer to stay on Today "as long as he wants," she also noted that identifying and grooming a replacement is a priority over the next two years.