‘Today’ Execs Tried to ‘Nudge Curry Off the Co-Host Track’ as Early as 2003

By Merrill Knox Comment

The first excerpts of Brian Stelter‘s upcoming book Top of the Morning, went online this morning, and will be featured in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, ahead of Tuesday’s publication. This excerpt takes a deep dive into the “dysfunction” at “Today” that led to Ann Curry’s forced departure from the show last June. Curry was named the show’s co-host in 2011, but discussions about moving her off the show were happening long before, something Stelter told us in our Media Beat interview (running next week on TVNewser). As far back as 2003, Stelter writes, “executives were already trying to nudge Curry off the co-host track:”

They saw that she and Lauer, who had hosted together dozens of times, demonstrated a distinct lack of chemistry. “I don’t think anybody back then thought Ann was right,” said Tom Touchet, the executive producer of “Today” at the time, who called her a “wacky chick” with a “great heart.” Neal Shapiro, who succeeded Lack as president of NBC News, suggested that Curry be moved to “Dateline NBC,” the prime-time newsmagazine. “The audience would understand moving to prime time was a great promotion, and there would be no backlash against ‘Today,’'” Shapiro recalled. “By making her a host of ‘Dateline,’ we could open up the news-anchor job on ‘Today’ to someone like Natalie Morales or Hoda Kotb” and start publicly grooming another successor for Couric.

Ultimately, though, Jeff Zucker, who gave birth to the streak in 1995 as the young executive producer of “Today” and had risen in the corporate ranks ever since, quashed the plan. Zucker agreed that Lauer and Curry didn’t have chemistry, but he said that Curry was a crucial supporting player in the “First Family.” As Couric prepared to leave for CBS, Zucker decided to pursue Meredith Vieira as co-host. Zucker kept his courtship a secret from Curry. When Vieira agreed to take the job, in April 2006, Zucker called Curry to his office for what he said was a “very uncomfortable conversation.” As soon as Curry saw the direction of the talk, her tears started welling up. Curry told Zucker that she believed she had earned the chance to co-host. She said that she might leave the network.

Zucker, who was now on his way to being chief executive, told her that she could go, but that he genuinely wanted her to stay. Curry ultimately decided to wait for her next opportunity at the co-host chair. To protect herself, she had her agent add an “out” clause in her next contract, which allowed her to go to work for another network immediately if she was passed over again. (A source close to Curry denied that this meeting took place.)