Back in early May, I wrote a column noting that Good Morning America's recent success in challenging the ratings supremacy of NBC's Today show seemed to boil down to a simple choice:
Which team of anchors do infotainment junkies want to spend their morning with?
Later, I turned that into an audio essay for NPR, noting that when co-anchor Ann Curry took over for a departing Meredith Vieira in June 2011, Today was beating GMA by more than 750,000 viewers. A year later, NBC barely won May sweeps (by 13,000 viewers) and has seen the ABC show win several weeks of ratings.
Now, a pair of New York Times stories have surfaced to dissect Curry's struggles in taking over the big chair opposite golden boy Matt Lauer, suggesting the network is negotiating to find a new role for her off of Today -- a job which could be announced early as next week.
Mike Hale has a piece based on a month of watching the Today show and additional interviews, noting gingerly that the revamp of CBS This Morning may have led some fans there to choose GMA and suggesting the ABC show was helped by featuring the network's popular Dancing with the Stars franchise.
But GMA has also competed hard, with co-anchor Robin Roberts snagging a widely touted interview with President Obama where he revealed his support for gay marriage. Roberts also made national headlines more recently after announcing a blood disease resulting from treatment for breast cancer years before.
Hale's story also suggests, ever so gently, that Curry just hasn't fit in among the show's cast. But that's an odd observation to make about somebody who has been part of the show's primary anchor team for 14 years (she was the show's newsreader before taking over for Vieira).
A friend and colleague at the Poynter Institute, Tom Huang, wrote an interesting essay wondering if race was a factor in the emotional connection for Curry, who is biracial with Japanese roots. I think many critics have not considered this angle because GMA's success seems rooted in the popularity of Roberts, who is African American.
I respect Huang a lot and know what it's like to wonder if there's an unspoke racial/cultural issue at hand when people talk such ephemeral and subjective concepts as "fitting in" or "chemistry." But while Hale's piece noted Curry "spent part of her early childhood living overseas, a situation that has been known to generate self-reliance and reserve," the primary criticism of Curry seem to allege the opposite -- that she emotes so much during interviews it is distracting and counter-productive.
It's tough to criticize Curry because she is, by all I've heard from sources on the show, a universally nice person who the staff likes. Still, she hasn't handled the live element of the job well -- her weakness is the spontaneous stuff, such as live interviews, light segments requiring quick quips and in-the-moment reactions.
When Vieira was announced as the successor to departing anchor Katie Couric, I asked Curry whether she felt passed over during the press conference the network held, and her disappointment at not getting the gig then was hard to hide.
If all things were equal, she should have gotten the co-host job then. But all things weren't equal, and some longtime fans have told me Curry's weaknesses have made it harder for them to watch the show.
What seems obvious now: the trial balloons have been floated in the New York Times and the notion that Curry is leaving Today soon has hit the mediasphere.
Barring a huge fan backlash, it seems all that's left is the official press release.