It’s been seven years since Ann Curry last regularly appeared on live television, when she exited as co-anchor of the Today show, where she had worked since 1997. Now Curry is returning to live TV with Chasing the Cure, a 90-minute series debuting tonight on TNT and TBS that will use a combination of crowdsourcing and top doctors to help people suffering from various undiagnosed and misdiagnosed medical mysteries.
Curry—who anchors and executive produces the multiplatform series—spoke with Adweek about returning to the “tremendous power” of live TV, why she couldn’t say no to Chasing the Cure and her thoughts about getting left out of Today’s recent 25th anniversary celebration video.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Adweek: What was the draw for you of becoming involved with this?
Curry: Throughout my career, I have always tried to give voice to the voiceless. This project lets people who are rarely heard be listened to and have their cases considered. This is what I’ve always tried to do. When I heard the idea, my first response was, “How do we make sure that a project like this doesn’t exploit people? How do we make sure that we do this correctly, and is there a way to ethically do this?” And my second response was, “If we could do it ethically, if we could do it right, how could I say no?” Because it’s an opportunity to help people who are at their wit’s end, people who are undiagnosed—and there are millions who are misdiagnosed every year. How could I say no? So that’s why I said yes.
When your involvement was first announced, the project was called M.D. Live …
Which was never going to happen!
… how did the scope of the show change since then?
A lot. It’s been like a snowball rolling downhill. It’s changed because it went from a concept [to reality]: What if you took what every one of us is seeing on social media—these stories about people who are undiagnosed or can’t pay for their care—and you amplify those with live television, which has such power. In this time when television is struggling for relevancy, live television has tremendous power, because there’s something authentic, real and connected about it. What if you amplify this trend that’s happening out there and you took those stories and you told those stories well, in almost a documentary way? But then you also brought those patients on live, and you gave them access to doctors anyone of us would be lucky to see?
Because these patients are long-suffering, we made it our mission to find doctors who were not easy to find. Doctors to whom we would say, “We want you to think about being on television, because these patients need you.” And the reason why these majority of these doctors said yes—and some of them are big-deal doctors—is because they recognize that while the opportunity for getting amazing medical care exists in this country, the truth is that for most of us, the system prevents us from getting it. We’re siloed by where we live, our access to who the specialists are in our town, by our medical insurance, the specialists and doctors who we need.
And so what we’re doing with this project is punching a hole in the silo and saying, look, what will happen if you give people access directly, break down the halls and connect them, in addition to anyone out there who may know something? There are more than 300 million people in this country, and there’s a chance that somebody else has a similar symptom, or somebody else is a medical professional who has seen a patient like this. And our website is going to be up so that anybody in the world can see these cases if they register. So there’s a hope that wasn’t there before.
You were involved with live TV daily for a large part of your career, but isn’t this your first time going back to live since then?
It is! It is the first time I’ve committed to doing a dedicated broadcast. And the reason I was willing to do it is because I knew there was a possibility it might do good, that it could be a mitzvah. I know it will be a mitzvah.
What about the live format makes it the best approach for this?
In the hour and a half that is simulcast in prime time, there will be these little mini stories that will document, in a newsmagazine kind of way, the [patients’] stories. But what we want is to harness the power of people listening, seeing something and calling in or emailing or using social media. There’s an opportunity for people listening at that moment. You remember the story about the Olympic gold medalist swimmer [Mack Horton], who discovered that he had skin cancer because somebody watching him on television live emailed in. There was another person, [HGTV’s Flip or Flop host Tarek El Moussa], who was emailed by a nurse because of a lump on his neck that turned out to be thyroid cancer. So this is about that. It doesn’t help us to show a taped story and not harness that power. If you’re putting [the] patient first, why wouldn’t you be live? The goal is to help people, so live is the way to go.
The show will be simulcast on TNT and TBS and is one of the first non-comedic, non-sports shows to air on TBS as part of the company’s efforts to blur its comedy brand.
I give WarnerMedia a lot of credit for stepping outside their comfort zone and doing something so innovative. It’s very different from what they have done before, and it’s different from what anyone has done before. I’ve actually been surprised to some degree, and I don’t mean this in a negative way, but surprised by the hoops that they’ve been willing to jump through to make sure we do this responsibly. I’m going to continue to hold them to it, but they have been amazing.
A few weeks ago, there was a bit of an outcry after Today played a 25th anniversary video that you were left out of, along with Tamron Hall and others. Were you as surprised as those Today viewers that you weren’t a part of that?
I wasn’t watching, so I didn’t know about it. I got a lot of tweets about it. I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I guess I’ve moved on so much that my response was essentially, ‘oh.’ But I was there for a long time, and I did feel—it was what you might expect—that as a human being, I would feel touched that people would tweet me and say, “I think you deserved to be in the tape.” That was very touching.
How do you get your news these days now that you’re no longer involved in the daily TV grind?
I aim for quality. I want quality facts, and when I think about quality facts, I find that I’ve got to mostly read them. There’s a depth in written journalism that’s very difficult to achieve in broadcast journalism. And that’s always been true. So I read The New York Times, I touch on The Washington Post and the Guardian, and I also have just started reading The Wall Street Journal. I don’t read all of them back-to-back, but I weigh all that data. That’s my morning routine.
I also look at Twitter, and that helps guide me to other places I’ve haven’t thought about. And having had many years of being a journalist, I don’t waste my time with sources that I know that have lied to me in the past. So mostly I read my journalism. I do sometimes listen and watch journalism, but rarely.