'Today' Producer Diverts Yellowstone Trip to Put Entire Team on the Ground in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Tornado Coverage Today Show - H 2013

Oklahoma Tornado Coverage Today Show - H 2013

The Today show’s planned “Great American Adventure” quickly turned to an American tragedy when the team was diverted to Moore, Oklahoma Monday afternoon to cover a deadly tornado there. The planned four-day road trip was to have Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Willie Geist, Al Roker and Natalie Morales visit some of the country’s favorite destinations: Hawaii, Yellowstone, Orlando and Chicago.

The team was en route from Hawaii to Yellowstone National Park in a chartered jet on Monday afternoon when Today executive producer Don Nash got word of the twister in Moore, a central Oklahoma town about 30 minutes from Oklahoma City. He made the call to redirect the plane, and they landed in Oklahoma City at about 7 p.m. central time on Monday.

Beginning last night, cable news and the broadcast divisions began sending anchors, producers and bookers to the devastated area. The small town of Moore has been chockablock with satellite trucks and bookers wrangling survivors for live interviews.

“In a situation like this, where there’s a tragedy, the tone among all the morning shows is respectful," Nash tells The Hollywood Reporter during a phone interview on Tuesday.

CBS This Morning had co-host Norah O’Donnell in Oklahoma, while Sam Champion and David Muir led coverage for ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday.

“We all want big bookings,” continued Nash, “but we set competition aside for a while. We try to be mindful of the situation. Folks here have other things to deal with besides which morning show they go on.”

Authorities have corralled most of the media in front of Moore City Hall. But Lauer was able to talk his way inside the perimeter of the destruction, where he and Roker broadcast Tuesday morning amid piles of rubble where homes and businesses once stood. The Today show has about 50 employees in Oklahoma, while other NBC divisions and broadcasts also have sent personnel, including Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

It’s unusual to have all five anchors of one program on location. For NBC’s Today, it happened to be fortuitous. But during the last national tragedy to rivet the nation -- the Boston Marathon bombing manhunt -- Lauer had already flown to West Texas to cover an explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed 14. But Nash defended that decision to keep Lauer in West Texas.

“Because of the timing of the way the Boston story broke, it I would have been difficult if not impossible to pull Matt out of West Texas,” he said. “But by the way, the West Texas story was big as well. Obviously it was overshadowed by what was going on in Boston. But I was glad he was on the ground there too.”