Why Meredith Vieira's reign helps Ann Curry: Proved success on 'Today' is about fitting into the machine
TV's highest-rated A.M. show began its most important transition in years this morning, as departing Today show anchor Meredith Vieira received a final goodbye that included a Glee-style musical number amid a broadcast sprinkled with over-the-top accolades and teary tributes.
And even as the music faded on a mega-musical number which got Jimmy Fallon and Abe Vigoda involved in lip synching the Journey hit Don't Stop Believin' while rushing Vieira through Today's 30 Rock headquarters, one thing seemed certain about the future of this show.
It is a machine which may be less about the charisma of any one anchor than any morning program.
Already, as we see Katie Couric, Keith Olbermann and Oprah Winfrey searching for new vistas in television, it's obvious the traditional role of the television anchor has shifted. With rare exceptions, anchors are now one of several reasons an audience might watch a broadcast, with content and convenience also placing high on the list.
And if Vieira's mostly-low key, mostly successful five-year tenure as Couric's successor offers any lessons for her replacement, news reader Ann Curry, it is this: Fitting into the Today show machine is the surest path to success on this particular program.
In Vieira's case, that meant developing a strong complimentary chemistry with co-anchor Matt Lauer. It's likely no accident that Lauer lauded Vieira as the best anchor he's ever worked with during the press conference officially announcing her departure -- their onscreen chemistry is the biggest reason why her transition from outside the NBC News family worked so smoothly.
It's also likely an important reason why Curry, who couldn't hide her hurt on being passed over when Couric departed NBC five years ago, is ready for the chair now. After 14 years as newsreader on the show, she knows Lauer and the program's rhythms as well as anyone, and seems very well-liked as a person behind the scenes at 30 Rock.
Curry, who has also regularly anchored Dateline NBC and the Nightly News evening broadcast, seems most challenged by live interviews, where she can still have trouble with improvising questions and getting to the heart of issues. I'm hoping an even closer working relationship with Lauer, who is one of the most underrated interviewers in television, helps there.
But NBC's deep bench -- everyone from Morning Joe's Willie Geist to CNBC's Carl Quintanilla regularly guest anchors the program -- combined with a well-oiled production and format, means that a successful co-anchor mostly just has to avoid making any big mistakes.
As the Curry era begins tomorrow, my money's on another seamless transition.