I have been watching the Today Show on NBC for over 30 years. I have bathed in its highs and wallowed in its lows. The show has been unassailable since its virtual inception. Even during the Bryant Gumble – Williard Scott debacle, the nation was hooked. It seems incapable of missteps – - even while Ann Curry, with her empathetic, concerned expression, asked rape victims if there is anything they want to say to their rapist. Oh, your child was just found dead in a ditch? How does that make you FEEL? Yup. The Today Show was invincible. Until, well, today. It seems to have met its kryptonite. In the coming weeks, this blog will explore the causes (and effects) of the slow, but steady death of Today’s domination of morning television. Spoiler alert: It’s not Matt Lauer. But, to get things started, here is a scientific and statistically solid score card of the professionals that we invite into our homes each day, and rely upon to tell us what we need to be thinking about.
MATT LAUER: A- Matt’s biggest hurdle is meeting our unrealistic expectations of him. We want him to take down arrogant celebrities. And, elevate the weak. And, take us on vacation. We want him to try out our next gadgets and let us know when we are being scammed. We expect him to put our agendas before the President. And strip down political candidates and issues. Fiscal Cliff? Sequester? No worries. Matt will know what to do. In short, we want him to tell us how to breathe. But, guess what? He is a trained news-reader who also knows how to conduct a good interview. That is his job description. Nothing more. And, he is very good at it. Today’s troubles have little to do with Matt, who remains the most likable guy on television (even if that love is not universally shared among his colleagues). He needs better support. He had it with the terrific Katie Couric and, later, Jim Bell. He will bounce back.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: C Only the most cynical among us could ever criticize Savannah. Of course, only the most articulate among us could find the right words of praise to lavish upon her. Why? There is not much there. Listening to her is like waiting in your doctor’s waiting room. You know it’s something you have to do, but when you finally see the doctor you cannot remember a single article you just read in the outdated Reader’s Digest displayed in the waiting room. She is cute. And, perhaps the smartest anchor on television. But, she is boring us to death. She needs to play a more limited role; taking on stories and assignments that speak to her. With the right material, she is mesmerizing. But, as an anchor, she is like lukewarm tea water.
AL ROKER: B+ You have to be impressed with Al. Here is a guy who predicts the unpredictable for a living, with perhaps a 65% 7-day accuracy rate. And, yet, he is the funniest, quickest guy on morning television. He seems like the kind of guy we would be, if we were elevated to the big leagues. Genuine. Appreciative. He wants us to laugh. And, he wants us to know, wink wink, he is one of us. This has its down side. Don’t overdo it. We might crap our pants at the White House, but we don’t want to hear about it every day. Sometimes, you need to advance the ball. Don’t try so hard to impress us. We are impressed.
NATALIE MORALES: B Poor Natalie. You lost a step when you were passed over for promotion. And, it shows. But, your resentment is misplaced. You do not belong at the Anchor’s desk. You are perfect for the news and for the occasional feature story. Do not try to be more than you are. You will end up like Jenna (see below). We love you and want you tell us what happened last night. By the way, we no longer need you to tell us what “Trending” means every single newscast. Anyone who does not yet know what to expect will either be surprised or does not deserve your precious explanation. And, yet, at the same time, this nuance defines you. Safe, familiar, helpful. You want more? Take some risks. Throw a tantrum. Offer a little editorial slant to a news story.
WILLIE GEIST: B+ I love this guy. But, he is under-used. And, worse, mis-used. Get him off the bench. Drop this stupid “Take Three” segment. I am still trying to figure out what the three stories have in common. He also seems to be wondering what he is supposed to be adding to the show. And it is hurting his performance. Get him on the road. Give him a Rossen-Style niche. My recommendation? Crime and criminals. Not good enough? Sports! He could be the Today Sports guy, with stories, news, and promotions. I look forward to a lot more from Willie.
DAVID GREGORY : A This guy needs to have his own news show. What’s that? He already has one? No way! When is it on? What? Sunday mornings? How about give that gig to Savannah? David is another representative bad casting decision. I would watch anything hosted by David. He is everyone’s best friend. Gangnum Style.
DR. NANCY SNYDERMAN: A- Nancy earns high praise precisely because she is perfectly cast. She knows more about medicine than my doctor and explains it to me like the idiot that I am. If she said sushi was bad for me, I would swear off spicy tuna for good. She never tries to be more than she is and she never talks down to us. Please do not ruin her by becoming too ambitious with her role.
STAR JONES: D While Star cannot possibly be blamed for Today’s current misfortunes, her role on the show is emblematic of what is wrong. Why is this woman on television and why does NBC not know what ABC learned the hard way? Star has not practiced law in 20 years and her short stint as a prosecutor hardly prepared her for a career – - two decades later – - as a general legal analyst. Watch carefully. She never actually offers any analysis. She uses safe catchphrases that add nothing to the discussion. “You never know what a jury will do.” Or “there should be a law against that.” Or “even if that is technically legal, I think it is reprehensible.” What is she talking about? No one seems to know. I would rather get my legal commentary from the folks on the Smucker’s Jars.
JENNA WOLFE C- We get it. You work out a lot. But it is your sense of wit and timing that needs a makeover. Your little spin on news stories constantly ceases to amaze. We like the concept of adding a personal, comedic touch to the news (see Natalie above), and we give you huge credit for trying, but the trick is, it has to be comedic. Your slant is just not funny and typically ruins a good news segment.
PETER ALEXANDER : B C’mon Peter. Get over your “gee whiz” Richie Cunningham persona. You made it. You are on the national stage. And, you are very good at it. But, you seem hesitant and, dare I say, a little meek. Assert yourself or get lost to larger personalities. You are one of the few characters who needs a larger role.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI: B+ Your irritating sing-song intonation is usually lost in your mesmerizing story-telling and “nook and cranny” reporting. (And your blue eyes). You are a champion. You choose great stories, research every angle, and offer a concise, interesting report. You may indeed end up in an anchor’s chair one day and you will shine.
ANN CURRY: C- Train wreck. Can’t read. Can’t report. Doesn’t know how to ask questions. But, she was loved by many for her personal touch and “girl-next-door” approach to celebrity. She never shied away from a story or a fight (probably because she did not quite understand what was going on). To her credit, her soft side was a nice balance to the harsh reality of the business of television. But, sadly, that just is not enough to land a TV gig.
JEFF ROSSEN: A- Superstar. But, seriously, if you get called to some suburban home in New Jersey and are asked to fix a furnace with a leaky screw, resist the urge to sell the homeowner a new unit. Jeff will hunt you down and make you cry. Heck, this guy should be doubling as the legal analyst. I am not sure if he knows anything about the law, but if I am ever arrested, he is going to be my phone-call. Get this guy some more TV time.
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