One could argue that the toughest job in all of television news is picking the right person to anchor a very lucrative morning show, and NBC execs are currently praying to the TV gods that they made the right choice to replace Ann Curry with Savannah Guthrie on the Today show.
Truth be told, the hardest part of the decision was not replacing Curry. She was and will continue to be a great reporter for NBC, but she was a fish out of water in an environment where hosts have to do everything from grilling politicians to grilling chicken. In one segment they might have to interview a parent who just lost a child, and an hour later they are chatting up Brad Pitt about his latest movie.
Throw in the witty banter needed to keep a three-hour live show moving seamlessly, and it becomes more apparent why it’s nearly impossible to find one person to successfully fill the role. Curry struggled with the lighter stuff, but I also think she was made out to be a scapegoat for Today‘s ratings decline and rival Good Morning America‘s recent surge. At some point, NBC execs have to be held accountable for horrible prime-time ratings that have a carry-over effect to the following morning.
So it was bittersweet to Curry fans and loyal viewers alike when veteran Today anchor Matt Lauer said on Guthrie’s first day as his co-host Monday morning, “It truly is a new day around here.” Changing anchors can breathe new life into a program, but the ratings after her debut demonstrate that it is not a panacea. (It was the first time GMA drew more viewers on a Monday in six years.) And just as Curry shouldn’t be blamed solely for Today‘s woes, Guthrie also deserves some time to settle into her new role.
With that in mind, I decided to watch her first three days on the job to see how she fared. I was familiar with her current work as the host of Today‘s third hour and also in her roles as a White House correspondent and as NBC’s chief legal correspondent (she graduated second in her class at Georgetown University’s law school). Guthrie has been a TV reporter for 19 years, so like Curry there was little doubt she could handle the interviews on politics, legal issues and other hard-news stories.
The big question was how would she fit in with Lauer, Al Roker and Natalie Morales, and how would she handle the lighter fare that comes with the job. And my answer to that is I came away very impressed. Guthrie is confident, but not cocky; she is attractive, but not in a FOX News Barbie doll kind of way. She can interrogate a congressman in one segment and then chat up the cast of the latest Ice Age movie in the next.
“We’re happy, because you bring a great attitude and what we like to call a weird sense of humor,” Lauer said Monday morning. To which Guthrie jokingly replied, “7:02, and he’s already calling me weird.”
Truth be told, there is something quirky about Guthrie that does make her very appealing. Much like former Today host Katie Couric, she has a knack for going from serious to goofy very quickly without jeopardizing her professionalism or credibility. With Curry, a lot of the banter seemed forced; with Guthrie, it appears to come very naturally.
After watching a clip segment of herself on Monday’s telecast, she said it was “like attending your own funeral.” That feeling has probably been prevalent at Rockefeller Plaza in New York a lot lately, but Guthrie just may be what NBC needs to climb its way back to the top.
Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC