A 'Cleansing Moment': 'Today' EP Talks Post-Olympics Boost
Jim Bell shares what he learned from the Summer Games — and how he plans to stay ahead of "Good Morning America."
This story first appeared in the Aug. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
During the London Olympics, NBC's Today was back atop the morning news heap, averaging about 6 million viewers and easily beating ABC's upstart Good Morning America. On Friday, Aug. 3, Today pulled in 6.5 million viewers for its best single-day tune in more than a year (since May 2, 2011, the day after the White House announced the assassination of Osama bin Laden). The Games – which now stand as the most-watched event in U.S. history with 219 million viewers over 17 days – also gave NBC Sports Network its most-watched event ever with the U.S. women’s soccer gold medal match (4.3 million viewers). Today executive producer, Jim Bell, who also was the Games' exec producer, reveals his plan to keep the show on top.
The Hollywood Reporter: How will the Olympics provide Today with forward momentum?
Jim Bell: For the Today show, the Olympics were a cleansing moment. It was a lot of fun to be in the midst of such a big event and maximize exposure to people who might not have been watching. Moving forward, we've got to convince some of those people that they might want to stick around.
THR: How do you do that?
Bell: Being on the hard-news cycle of the election with a team that we're really thrilled about. This hugely important election is going to play to our strengths with the best interviewer in television in Matt Lauer and somebody with a whip smart political IQ in Savannah Guthrie. Obviously, the first half of 2012 was tougher for us. I don't need to sugarcoat it. It was tough. But London felt big and special. And it reminded everybody -- even us -- how lucky we are to be able to work on this show.
THR: NBC Sports Network did very well with women's soccer and men's basketball. Would you put those sports exclusively on the broadcast network next time?
Bell: No. We have a responsibility to use the Olympics to build that cable channel.
THR: It was your first time in the EP seat for the Olympics. What was your big takeaway: Don't read Twitter?
Bell: (Laughs.) It just made me scratch my head. Look, there's a lot of scrutiny around something this big that almost 220 million people watched. But we have to be true to who we are and make decisions in our best interest. We're putting the most popular things on when the most people can watch them. We also have affiliates to consider. We have advertisers to consider. It's a business. This isn't the BBC. So for people to get so sideways about, "Why aren't you showing me this, that or the other thing live?" We offered everything live.
THR: The American women earned more medals than their male teammates. Will we see more women’s sports getting primetime coverage in the future?
Bell: It definitely makes you very bullish about the Olympics because these sports and these teams and these personalities are hugely popular during the Olympic window.
THR: What was the surprise hit of London 2012?
Bell: Archery. We think that The Hunger Games may have had something to do with it.
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie