Behind the TV Scenes: ‘Today’ EP Don Nash

By Jordan Chariton 

Don Nash

This summer, we’re putting a spotlight on the industry’s top producers; getting the inside story about their shows, how they got to where they are, and advice they have for future TV journalists.

“Today” show executive producer Don Nash has been with NBC News for more than two decades, most of that time working at the signature morning show. Earlier this week we chatted with the NBC veteran

TVNewser: You’ve been with “Today” for 24 years. What’s kept you there, and how valuable a trait is loyalty to a specific network, in this day and age?

Nash: I never wanted to go anywhere else. I got out of college, I got a job as a page at NBC, and I never thought in a million years I’d ever work for a show as great as “Today.” I never thought in a billion years I’d ever be running the place. And I never had any desire to go anywhere else because I didn’t think it could get any better. It’s absolutely important to be loyal to whoever you work for, be it at a network or anywhere else. Loyalty is something I value in a big way; it’s something I value in the people who work for me, and it’s something I value in the people I work for.

TVNewser: Morning TV is a cutthroat industry. How do you balance the drive to be number one, managing talent egos, and producing a quality broadcast every day?

Nash: I try not to get stressed out by the cutthroat nature of morning television. I honestly wake up every day and try to put on the best show we can put on…I really, really do. Of course I want to win, of course I want to be number one again. But my methodology is just to do a great show every day and eventually the viewers will appreciate that and we’ll be back to where we want to be. It’s a stressful job; there’s a lot happening every day. To be honest, I kind of get an adrenaline rush from the pressure, and I wonder sometimes if I’d survive a job that was less intense. Maybe it’s because I’ve done it for so long, but I’m never more content in my job than when there’s a big breaking news story, or big event that we’re covering, or we’re doing a huge show that I know is going to have a lot of eyeballs on it. So, in some ways, I’m driven by the pressure of my job.

TVNewser: You’ve overseen major breaking news, from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars to 9/11 and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Were there any particular stories that affected you?

Nash: Like a lot of Americans, I was very much affected and moved by 9/11. That was a morning in the control room I will never, never forget. And I remember, we were on the air, I think for six hours, and we were wrapping up our 8:30 half hour, and Matt [Lauer] was doing an interview, and I took the first phone call with someone who was downtown and it looked like the World Trade Center was on fire. And I remember thinking, ‘wow that can potentially be a big story,’ and the next thing I knew, I was looking up on one of the monitors, and I saw it was indeed on fire; of course as the morning unfolded it just got more and more intense, and I remember at the end of our coverage feeling very torn up at what had happened and how much America changed on that day. There was someone in the control room that morning who worked for us, whose spouse worked in the towers.  And this person was unaware of whether her spouse got out. And I remember having to work on the show and see what was going on the air, while at the same time sort of tend to her concerns. Over the course of our coverage, she was breaking down, and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t just ignore what she’s going through’ because what she’s going through is so traumatic. And I’ll never forget that at the end of that morning when we finally went off the air and handed off to Brian Williams, I’ll never forget walking upstairs and seeing that person was walking hand and hand with her spouse down the stairs, and he was covered in soot. He had gotten out of the building.

TVNewser: Obviously all the attention goes to Matt, Savannah, Al, and the rest of the crew. What should we know about Don Nash?

Nash: I’m the worst person to ask about that stuff. I try to be a good boss. I try to listen to everyone’s point of view even though I don’t always agree with them in the end, and I try to have a lot of fun at work. Outside of work, I’m a crummy tennis player; I have a boat that doesn’t get as much use as I’d like it to, and I still love to camp.

TVNewser: Summer intern season is in full swing. Any classic intern or low-level producer moments you remember?

Nash: My first internship, believe it or not, was with Entertainment Tonight way back when. I just remember being very impressed working on the Paramount Lot, which is where the ET offices were located at that time. I just remember walking around the sound stages, and at the time, TV shows like “Family Ties” and “Cheers” were being recorded there, and seeing people like Michael J. Fox and Ted Danson in the commissary was something, as a young kid in college.

TVNewser: And what’s your advice for up-and-comers who want your job or Matt Lauer’s job?

Nash: Have you ever tried to take Matt Lauer’s job? My advice is once you find something you love, appreciate it.  And don’t always look at other places to find happiness. Sometimes it’s right where you are.