Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
'Today' is first on to-do list for NBC news exec
BY JOE FLINT, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES -- David Copperfield was supposed to visit the set of NBC's "Today" show last week, but when his flight had to make an emergency landing in Illinois the network went to Plan B -- an interview with the illusionist from a hangar in Peoria.
Host Matt Lauer was game but technology wasn't. NBC's Skype connection produced bad audio and grainy images of a cheesy illusion that probably only served to make viewers disappear.
"They are behaving like they don't know what they're doing at 7 a.m.," said Andrew Tyndall, a TV news consultant and analyst.
Once the crown jewel of morning television and a cash cow for NBC News, "Today" enjoyed almost 20 years as the show that got America out of bed. That came to an end last April after viewers failed to embrace the pairing of Lauer with Meredith Vieira's successor, Ann Curry, who was subsequently bumped in favor of Savannah Guthrie.
In the just-completed February sweeps, "Today" was down 13 percent in viewers and almost 20 percent among adults 25 to 54. Archrival "Good Morning America" was first in both categories.
Tasked with getting "Today" back on track is Patricia Fili-Krushel, the new chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, which includes not only NBC News but also cable channels MSNBC and CNBC.
In one of her first interviews since taking the job last July, Fili-Krushel acknowledged the network mishandled the Vieira-Curry-Guthrie transition. But she added that even without that fiasco the show had become too complacent and protective of its No. 1 perch.
"When you are No. 1, it's easy to stop taking chances," Fili-Krushel said. "I think we just stopped innovating."
Despite the concerns about the Lauer-Guthrie pairing, Fili-Krushel gave them a strong endorsement. "They are the ones who will take us back to No. 1," the executive said.
Something of a surprise choice to oversee NBC's news empire, given that she does not have a traditional journalism background, Fili-Krushel is a former president of ABC and a close confidant of NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke. She's also no stranger to morning television, having overseen the development and launch of ABC's "The View."