Thursday, June 28, 2012

ANN CURRY EXITS TODAY WITH GRACE -- ON TO THE NEXT CHAPTER AT NBC NEWS



This morning Ann Curry sat on the Today show's couch for the last time as co-host and in an emotional and riveting television moment told viewers she was "sorry I couldn't carry the ball over the finish line. But man, I did try." It was Ann at her most authentic in her love for her work and her desire to bring the most important stories of the day to her viewers. Morning television is a world unto itself and the success of the shows depend on a myriad of factors: the chemistry of the teams, the lead-ins and the general vibe of the network itself.

To say Ann was the reason that the Today has been see sawing with Good Morning America for first place for the first time in decades is naive and wrong headed, but that's the way it is in television. Someone has to take the blame.

Ann has always been the 'good soldier' at NBC and that's why she got the co-host spot in the first place after Meredith Vieira left. She deserved it  -- she'd been passed over once and the NBC execs were rewarding her for her loyalty. Now, after the hurtful leaks and countless stories about the behind the scenes deal making surrounding her departure, Ann finally spoke her piece and she did so brilliantly and from the heart making it very clear that her departure wasn't her idea. NBC News owed her the opportunity to do so and while she kept apologizing for being a 'sob sister' in teary remarks, she stayed true to herself and showed tremendous grace in the face of a difficult situation. While Al Roker and Natalie Morales got misty eyed (Natalie was wiping away tears), Matt Lauer looked extremely uncomfortable during the entire episode. It was painful to watch.

Ann has always been the real 'heart' of the Today show and a class act. Years ago, for an anniversary package on Today I wrote for TV Guide, Ann told me her motivation for doing her job was: "I want you to care" -- and that remains true today.

All indications are that Savannah Guthrie will inherit the spot next to Matt on the couch. She'll do fine. I'm sure the network execs are hoping that by giving Ann the opportunity to say good-bye -- despite all the mean-spirited leaks leading up to today -- viewers will not hold this hard shove off the couch against them. That remains to be seen. If Today experiences a rating bounce, they will consider it a good move to have forced her departure. If things stay status quo, which I suspect they will give or take a ratings point or two because GMA and anchor Robin Roberts are clearly having a moment, it will be explained away. The inevitable bounce that Today will get from the Olympics will have nothing to do with Ann's departure. In other words, either way, NBC will spin this as a win. Whether it is or not remains to be seen. My two cents on the morning show wars: On most days, Today has become too light for hardcore news junkies and not light enough for our increasing tabloid obsessed culture. I find GMA a bit more fluffy than Today (not counting its KLG and Hoda gabfest which is, I admit, a lot of fun). That's the wave of the future -- if not the present -- in morning television.

As for Ann, in her new role at NBC News where, she says, the powers that be created a "fancy title" for her, she will be going back to do the work she really loves to do, traveling the world to bring some of the most critically important issues of the day into viewers' homes. NBC News was wise to keep her. I never believed they would let her go. As a news anchor in the field, there is no one better, more tenacious or more humane.

I've interviewed Ann many times over the years and she’s never been content sitting prettily behind the anchor chair reading the news. She was assured she was going to be able to still travel around the country if not as much overseas in her role as cohost but that really wasn't the case. Still, Ann rolled with it and gave it her all. But she has always been much more at home reporting from Baghdad, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Rwanda and Darfur among other global hot spots than sitting in the studio. Today, as she exits from Today having wrongly been deemed a failure in that role, it is worth reminding people of her amazing successes. She landed the first interview with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after elections on the eve of his visit to the United Nations. She was the first network news anchor to report from war-torn Kosovo, the first on the ground from the Southeast Asia tsunami zone and the first to document the genocide in Darfur. While hard news is Curry’s “first love,” she’s also managed to land the big celebrity gets, too. When Brangelina was sequestered in Africa preparing for the birth of their twins, Angelina Jolie spoke only to Curry. George Clooney chose Ann to accompany him to Sudan.

While today is undoubtedly one of the most difficult days in Ann Curry's career, I predict it will come to be known as a turning point where she returns to her first love -- hard news -- and delivers some of the most extraordinary stories of her career. We need women like her out in the world looking for the truth and bringing it back to us. I wish her well. I know she'll succeed.


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