Did NBC Just Botch the Ann Curry Issue? (Analysis)

The panicky dumping of the co-anchor was NBC being NBC, but it might have been the best thing that has happened -- to Curry.
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Ann Curry and Savannah Guthrie

NBC dumping Ann Curry from Today seemed like both calculated assassination and bizarrely ill-timed roll of the dice. It also seemed, well, like NBC.

Can’t this network do anything right? We’re a long way past “this is starting to get embarrassing” and nudging up against “this is starting to get pathological.”

The issue that cannot ever be avoided with NBC is that once the bean counters there think you’ve cost them a handful of beans, you are the enemy. Just ask Conan O’Brien. Or, hell, ask Jay Leno after Mr. Popular couldn’t prove the bean counters right that what America wants most at 10 p.m. isn’t a costly drama but a very inexpensive show with a familiar face.

In short, you cannot win at NBC, and Ann Curry, bless her lovely little heart, is finding this out in a fashion surprisingly similar to O’Brien. Let’s see: Dream job wanted, dream job attained, dream job lost.

Yep, sounds pretty familiar.

Nobody could tell Conan that The Tonight Show wasn’t what he thought it was. God knows I tried, as did countless others. It’s a job he dreamt about since he was a kid watching Johnny Carson with his dad. And then he gets it, and it’s a crappy, tarnished version of what was so supremely great in his youth. Then NBC makes it a nightmare for him. Some people can't see through the dream and have to learn the hard way.

I can’t fathom what Curry would really want out of hosting Today, since she’s a good journalist with a fine resume forced into all kinds of embarrassing stunts in the name of entertaining Americans in the morning. From here, it looks like an adult has run away to join the circus and the absurdity of it hits them after 5,000 or so of their friends tell them they are insane. What Curry sees in working with Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker is beyond me by several solar systems, but if Curry wants to be the co-host of Today, well, that’s her dream, and we shouldn’t snicker.

But now it’s her nightmare (cue Conan's devilish laugh). She spent her rookie year in the main chair, following Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric, watching the ratings take a big dive while nobody -- not one person -- ever said it was Matt Lauer’s fault, not even partially, because it’s never his fault. Nor could it possibly be any of the external changes in the morning show race or perhaps a natural end to a really long winning streak by Today. Nope, in NBC's world, once ABC’s Good Morning America caught Today, passed it, retreated but stayed close enough to scare the bejesus out of the accounting department, something had to be done.

So something was done to Curry.

NBC, no stranger to pushing its people out on a raft it just lit on fire, made the connection clear to The New York Times that based on the lead evaporating on Curry’s watch, perhaps her “chemistry” with Lauer was to blame, even though nobody really talked about that in the past decade or so. That's called a leak. That's also called putting a shiv in Curry's back. In any case, since Today historically has been NBC’s money-printing machine, you can imagine the ledge-walking and brow-mopping that was going on at corporate headquarters. Once it was decided that Curry had tripped over the cord connecting the money-printing machine to the wall socket, her fate was pretty much sealed.

I would think that panic has clouded some judgment at NBC. Maybe a year isn’t enough time to judge Curry? Maybe CBS going all PBS in the morning has changed the landscape and ABC might have just benefitted more. Is that Curry’s fault? I’m sure NBC thinks so. And you know what? Maybe she really is the problem. Maybe she’s not connecting with America. I would hate to think the reason is because she’s Asian-American and, well, you know how cold those people can be. Like Roker playing the clown with the weather, maybe it was easier to take studious Curry doing the news. Sigh. All those years of Couric’s sincerity, which seemed so false to some (ahem), might have trained morning show viewers to want a certain someone. And perhaps Curry is not that person.

But is NBC absolutely sure that Savannah Guthrie is that person? I’m willing to bet that NBC has no idea whether Guthrie is the new It Host. Whoever made this decision probably got tired of having the bean counters in their office saying: “We’re hemorrhaging money, and we think it’s Curry. You’ve got to do something.”

So that something is Guthrie. And godspeed to you, Savannah, but don’t buy any new property just yet. And whatever you do, don’t go rafting with NBC executives if the ratings continue to dive.

As for Curry, well, she’s staying on at NBC with a flurry of new titles and responsibilities, but no doubt she’s hurting inside because her dream job is burnt beneath her and mean blog commenters say she’s an ice queen. Perhaps it’s too early for her to realize that she’s better off away from the circus that is Today and that this is a blessing. Maybe one day she’ll watch a sizzle reel of what she did during her year in the co-host chair and say, “What in the hell was I thinking?”

Until then, I hope she gets over the pain and finds some happiness. I’ve always liked Curry a lot, while loathing morning shows. In the meantime, my advice to Guthrie is to check the overnight ratings every morning. And if they’re down, smile as wide as you can, nod approvingly at everything Lauer says and keep your head on a swivel.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine



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