The memo described in brutal detail the changes that needed to be made to NBC’s “Today.” Some of the show’s top talent were targeted: “this guy’s killing us and no one’s even trying to rein him in.” Of course, those words were written in 1989 by Bryant Gumbel, who was speaking of Willard Scott.
And yet it all sounds so much like this week’s dismissal of “Today” show GM Jamie Horowitz. Several insider accounts of the departure make reference to a “manifesto”, wherein the former ESPN producer described in detail what was wrong with “Today”, and how he intended to fix it. By all accounts, it was not warmly received:
A week ago, according to an informed source, Horowitz presented Turness with a written “manifesto” outlining his scheme; on reading it, she “took umbrage” and was horrified.
The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove talked with former “GMA” executive producer Shelley Ross, (right) who warned that you need solid support to propose major changes, especially in the intensely competitive–and lucrative–world of morning TV:
“When you come in to make changes, everybody gets nervous about their jobs, so it’s unpopular and almost a fool’s errand if you don’t have the complete backing of management,” Ross said.
When Gumbel’s four-page memo became public in 1989, “Today” was on top, and Gumbel was at the peak of his power, having just signed a new $7 million contract. Things are different now. Instead of facing punishment for outlining major changes, Gumbel was defended by NBC News president Michael Gartner, who said the memo had been taken from Gumbel’s personal computer. “That, quite simply, is theft,” Gartner said. “It won’t be tolerated. Anyone who steals will be fired.”
Gumbel’s memo was written to then-executive producer Marty Ryan, and the host ended his manifesto by suggesting Ryan might not be up to the job: “either do what’s necessary, or admit you’re not up to it.” Ryan went on to join Fox News, and retired last year.
The Gumbel Manifesto kicked off a year of turbulence at “Today,” which culminated in the Fall of 1989 with the messy departure of Jane Pauley, after weeks of awkward on-set chemistry between Pauley, Gumbel, and Pauley’s appointed replacement, Deborah Norville. People described the transition a month later, and it sounds quite a lot like the 2012 Ann Curry departure that “Today” is still recovering from: “the addition of Norville might not have resulted in such an uproar had NBC execs not badly fumbled the play.”