Ann Curry's Options Dwindle as $12 Million NBC News Contract Nears Window
This story first appeared in the Dec. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
What will Ann Curry do next? The veteran newswoman's deal with NBC News has a window in early 2014, and speculation is swirling about plans for the longtime correspondent. Insiders note that she wants to move on in the wake of her awkward June 2012 exit from Today. But where?
Curry's representative, Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, has made NBC News' competitors, including CBS News, aware she will be available. (He declined comment.) A CBS News executive tells THR he respects Curry's journalistic chops but that there really isn't a place for her at that division. Sources say Curry, 57, also has not had talks with CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker, her former Today producer. Al Jazeera America, the Qatar emirate-backed network that launched in August and has struggled to lure viewers, did express interest in Curry this year when executives reached out to numerous anchors and producers to gauge availability. Certainly her style of journalism -- she's an intrepid, empathic interpreter of humanitarian crises -- would be a good fit for AJAM. And the network, available in 55 million homes, has demonstrated willingness to spend top dollar to attract such talent as former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler and Ali Velshi, lured from CNN. But sources there say there are no current discussions with Curry or her reps.
The newswoman continues to appear on NBC News programs: In September, she reported on the 1 million-plus children displaced by the war in Syria; in October, she sat down with Brad Pitt to talk about 12 Years a Slave. But the role is a big demotion from her daily platform on Today, and NBC News insiders do not expect Curry to stay at the division at the conclusion of her deal. She was given her own production unit and a $12 million salary to exit Today amid the botched transition to anchor Savannah Guthrie, but since then, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke and news group chairman Patricia Fili-Krushel have instituted increased cost-consciousness across the news division. Insiders say there is little appetite for such hefty salaries. Indeed, CNBC executives declined to match the $6 million-plus deal Fox Business Network offered Maria Bartiromo, who left Nov. 22.
Independent news analyst Andrew Tyndall suggests Curry's best recourse would be to form her own production company, perhaps securing funding from nongovernmental organizations with humanitarian interests, and selling exclusive reports to various outlets.
"The model for her is the Soledad O'Brien one," says Tyndall, referring to the erstwhile CNN anchor who has output deals with HBO and AJAM. "She sets up her own production company, does one-off documentaries and then sells them to Al Jazeera or HBO or Netflix or whomever.
"There are all sorts of places looking for content," he continues. "She can probably drum up some funding from Bill and Melinda Gates to go off and do a documentary about something they care about. There's plenty of funding in the [nonprofit] sector. That's her brand -- there's an audience for it. But she's run the end of the string in terms of being on a commercial television division's payroll."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article stated that Curry's contract with NBC News was expiring. It is not. Rather, she has a window in her contract.