I have watched Today since the Jane Pauley days for 20 long years. Oh, well. Like Don Ameche spouting David Mamet, "Thingza Change."
Matt Drudge sez (rather, repeats from the NY Times piece on Katie Couric):
Facing audience erosion, Couric "has grown downright scary: America's girl next door has morphed into the mercurial diva down the hall"
"...into a Marxist-style cult of personality..."
Published: April 25, 2005
Something has to be very wrong with NBC's "Today" if viewers are turning to ABC's Diane Sawyer as a refreshingly wholesome, down-to-earth alternative.
For more than a decade Katie Couric has reigned as the Everywoman of morning television.
NBC considered her so critical to restoring the pre-eminence of "Today" after the disaster known as Deborah Norville that in 2001 the network gave her a $60 million contract over four-and-a-half years to keep her from defecting. Inevitably, Ms. Couric's on-air persona changed, along with her appearance and pay scale. But lately her image has grown downright scary: America's girl next door has morphed into the mercurial diva down the hall. At the first sound of her peremptory voice and clickety stiletto heels, people dart behind doors and douse the lights.
Or, at least, change the channel. At its height, "Today" had two million more viewers than ABC's "Good Morning America." Now NBC's most profitable program may be in danger of falling behind: for the first time in years, the gap between "Today" and "Good Morning America" recently narrowed to just 270,000 viewers.
The strained chemistry between Ms. Couric and her colleagues - Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Ann Curry - could be one reason. But network karma is also to blame. After years of dominance, NBC is trailing in fourth place, while ABC is suddenly sparkling with hot new shows and momentum. "Good Morning America" parades the stars of "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" in front of its viewers. The "Today" audience has to brace itself for yet another interview with a fired contestant from "The Apprentice."
Panic has set in at Rockefeller Center. Last week NBC dismissed the executive producer of "Today," Tom Touchet, and replaced him with a sports producer, Jim Bell, the program's fourth impresario since 2001. It gets worse: NBC also fired a longtime contributor, style and fashion expert, Steven Cojocaru, three weeks after he underwent a kidney transplant. Mr. Cojocaru said that he was banished because he agreed to give an interview to Oprah Winfrey, a competitor. "I wasn't just fired, I was dumped," Mr. Cojocaru told Ms. Winfrey on her show on Thursday. "I was shot at the crack of dawn. I was left in a gutter to bleed. I mean, it was so cold." (An NBC spokeswoman said that his was a one-sided view of the matter, but that the network "wishes him the best.")
"Today" certainly seems chillier than usual about the competition. It reported on Friday that a Las Vegas woman was arrested last week on attempted-larceny charges after complaining in March that she found a human finger in chili from a California Wendy's. Recalling the instant reaction to the story, the NBC report haughtily noted that "some media jumped on it," and showed a clip of the woman being interviewed on "Good Morning America" above a screen title, "Woman Finds Finger in Chili."
Neal Shapiro, the president of NBC News, said last week that "Today" "didn't sparkle enough," adding that NBC would "find new ways" to show off its anchors.
That was the most worrisome news of all. If anything, the problem with "Today" is that it sparkles and shows off too much.
Viewers - and most of them are women - like Ms. Couric's cheeky, easygoing manner; affection grew into admiration after her husband died of colon cancer in 1998 and Ms. Couric made early detection her cause. (In 2000 she underwent a colonoscopy on the program.)
But "Today" has turned her popularity into a Marxist-style cult of personality. The camera fixates on Ms. Couric's legs during interviews, she performs in innumerable skits and stunts, and her clowning is given center stage even during news events. "Today" hit a low point in July, when Saddam Hussein appeared in a Baghdad courtroom to hear the charges he will face when he goes to trial as a war criminal. All the networks interrupted their programming to show live images of Mr. Hussein - all except NBC. "Today" stayed on Ms. Couric swatting shuttlecocks with the United States Olympic badminton team.
Success on television can be as brutal as failure; the job of a network anchor, and particularly a morning anchor who must banter for hours on end, is more harmful to the ego than almost any other kind of public performance. Musicians play music, actors play parts, but anchors must play themselves - their looks, personalities and aplomb are on trial before millions of viewers every morning. It's the kind of scrutiny that distorts even the sunniest, healthiest disposition. [yeah! Look what happened to Arthur Godfrey!]
NBC executives seem to think that viewers have grown bored with "Today" and want more gimmicks and pizazz. But if that were true, they wouldn't be switching to ABC. Ms. Sawyer's appeal on "Good Morning America" is not that she is new and exciting, but that she is a consistently smooth, even restful, presence. Her golden good looks never change, and she handles interviews and chatter with her genial co-host Charles Gibson with a poised, creamy insincerity that never varies or falters.
Ms. Couric made her mark in television by being natural and unaffected, but nobody can stay that way in that job for long. "Today" might be better served by easing its anchor-centric style and giving its stars and viewers a bit of a break.