Today show celebrates 60th anniversary with anchor reunion highlighting its impact on network TV news
It seemed like they somehow gathered together every person alive who had anchored the today show since its inception 60 years ago, from Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters to Meredith Vieira, Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel.
What resulted this morning was more than just a self-promotional trip down Memory Lane (though it did have the advantage of falling during the inaugural week of revamped rival CBS This Morning).
Instead, NBC offered a real, affecting look at the long shadow the Today show casts over the history of network television news.
Among the roster of anchors who showed this morning were people who have held the top news anchor jobs at every network with an evening newscast, including Walters (at ABC, with Harry Reasoner), Couric (at CBS) and Tom Brokaw at NBC.
Missing were Joe Garagiola, who has had health problems through 2009 and 2010, and recently retired film critic Gene Shalit.
Walters became the first woman ever to co-anchor a network evening newscast, while Couric became the first to do it solo. Downs and Walters also co-anchored ABC's top newsmagazine 20/20, while Gumbel led one of the many failed CBS morning revamps, anchoring the first iteration of The Early Show.
Beyond the big jobs of its former anchors, however, the Today show has led the way in another, important fashion. It had led the way in which news had melded with gossip and entertainment, creating a hybrid designed to keep viewers glued even while guilding the toughest news stories in a bit of entertainment's allure.
Walters is, in fact, the patron saint of this approach, developed during her early interview shows, where she'd aim the same sorts of questions at political leaders such as Yassif Arafat and the celebrities of the day. Eventually, the anchor abandoned political leaders, she told me in an interview, because the celebrities got much bigger ratings.
But Today has refined the mix, devoting the first 10 or 15 minutes of each broadcast to harder news reports before the deluge of stories on missing mothers, British royalty, celebrity excesses and NBC/Universal Studios tie-ins commences.
Still, the reunion today was compelling, featuring Gumbel kissing onetime weather guy Willard Scott (who he once excoriated in a 1989 memo made public in which he complained Scott "holds the show hostage to his...bad taste.") and Oscar winnner Tom Hanks rolling out a huge cake.