Ann Curry, Jim Bell and ‘Operation Bambi’

By Merrill Knox 

As we told you yesterday, the first excerpts — and, in fact, the first several chapters — of Brian Stelter‘s Top of the Morning deals with Ann Curry’s ouster from the “Today” show couch. Stelter paints a picture of the months leading up to Curry’s emotional goodbye, reporting that the chief architect of the plan was former executive producer Jim Bell, who presided over the show’s “boys club atmosphere.” Bell was was convinced Curry’s exit was vital to the show’s survival, Stelter writes:

At one point, the executive producer, Jim Bell, commissioned a blooper reel of Curry’s worst on-air mistakes. Another time, according to a producer, Bell called staff members into his office to show a gaffe she made during a cross-talk with a local station. (Bell denies both incidents.) Then several boxes of Curry’s belongings ended up in a coat closet, as if she had already been booted off the premises. One staff person recalled that “a lot of time in the control room was spent making fun of Ann’s outfit choices or just generally messing with her.” On one memorable spring morning, Curry wore a bright yellow dress that spawned snarky comparisons to Big Bird. The staff person said that others in the control room, which included 14 men and 3 women, according to my head count one morning, Photoshopped a picture of Big Bird next to Curry and asked co-workers to vote on “Who wore it best?”

[…] So insistent was Bell that Curry was the problem — that she was “out of position,” as he put it in an e-mail to his deputies — that he had been talking about it with friends for months. One morning-TV veteran suggested to him that firing Curry, who had been co-hosting for only about six months at that point, would be tantamount to “killing Bambi.” Undeterred, Bell hatched a careful three-part plan: 1.) persuade Lauer to extend his expiring contract; 2.) oust Curry; 3.) replace her with Savannah Guthrie. According to this source, Bell called his plan Operation Bambi.

Stelter’s book is out Tuesday. We’ll have the first part of our two-part Media Beat interview with him that day as well.