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Brian Stelter, called Matt Lauer’s nemesis in a recent New York cover story, continues to cover the weird, terrible and fascinating story of Ann Curry’s ouster from The Today Show.
Stelter, who has long reported against the official stories from Lauer and NBC, continues with another fascinating article/excerpt from his upcoming book.
In this latest look at the vast mishandling of Curry’s removal from Today is the sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle implications that the firing in part, perhaps a large part, was due to sexism within NBC. Let’s take a look at some of the relevant quotes:
Many executives at the network never grasped how profoundly hurt and humiliated Curry remained — not just by her televised dismissal but by all the backstage machinations that led to that fateful morning. Curry felt that the boys’ club atmosphere behind the scenes at “Today” undermined her from the start, and she told friends that her final months were a form of professional torture. The growing indifference of Matt Lauer, her co-host, had hurt the most, but there was also just a general meanness on set. At one point, the executive producer, Jim Bell, commissioned a blooper reel of Curry’s worst on-air mistakes.
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?”
Some suggested that the show was getting stale. Others privately wondered if Lauer’s star power was beginning to fade. By January, Bell had another culprit in mind: Ann Curry. 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.
The coinage, however, was indicative of a few larger truths about morning television. Though it is created largely for women, the business is, even now, managed mostly by men, including those who like to think in terms of war, sabotage and embarrassing James Bond-like names for things they do in the office.
“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.”
Burke effectively initiated the first phase of Bell’s operation: he told Lauer about the plot to replace Curry with Guthrie, whose playful, sometimes bashful personality many of NBC’s top executives found appealing.
According to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation, Burke told Lauer, “We need to sign you so we can do Ann.” Burke, who had to be keenly aware of Lauer’s discomfort with Curry, was basically scratching her off his list of reservations.
While Curry regularly agitated for less sensationalism and more serious news coverage, Bell argued that tabloid fare about grisly murders and missing white women were an important part of the morning TV mix. In January, as Operation Bambi was coming together in his head, Bell confronted Curry about her reluctance to do the tabloid segments. “You need to be all in,” he told her harshly.
One complained about her “huge sense of entitlement,” saying she thought her “Today” post “was a Supreme Court appointment.” Truthfully, Curry didn’t know what to believe. Capus, although aware of Bell and Burke’s desire to fire Curry before the Olympics, was still trying to reassure Curry. He wanted to postpone any change until at least the end of the year. “Well,” she thought to herself, according to friends, “Steve is Jim’s boss, so if he says not to worry… .”
Mere hours after Curry’s signoff, Bell took his top producers to Brasserie Ruhlmann, a Rockefeller Plaza restaurant that often doubled as a high-end NBC cafeteria. One observer said that he led the group in raising wineglasses to toast her departure. The next day Guthrie’s appointment would be announced. Operation Bambi was complete.
Curry was sad after signing off, but also enraged. When critics blamed a lack of chemistry for her departure, she dismissed it to friends it as a euphemism for something else. “ ‘Chemistry,’ in television history, generally means the man does not want to work with the woman,” Curry was known to have remarked. “It’s an excuse generally used by men in positions of power to say, ‘The woman doesn’t work.’ ”
I’m looking forward to read more in Stelter’s upcoming book.
“The bundle is the Gibraltar of the media business,” said Tim Wu, the author of “The Master Switch,”…”
““The bundle is the Gibraltar of the media business,” said Tim Wu, the author of “The Master Switch,” a history of media revolutions. “It keeps the entire ecosystem alive, which is why it is so heavily and successfully defended. But there are hairline fractures beginning to appear, and you are seeing alliances shift.””
– At NYT, David Carr explains why the long standing ‘bundle’ system for delivering advertising on many platforms (especially cable TV) is now failing and why the consequences for TV may be immense.
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