During our interview about his new book, “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV,” Brian Stelter consistently refers to the ouster of Ann Curry on the “Today” show as “The Ann Curry Disaster.”
And a disaster it was. After an awkward first year, Curry was unceremoniously replaced as co-host of “Today” in 2012. It was far from smooth transfer: On her last day on set, Curry actually cried when she announced she was leaving the show; she then visibly flinched when Matt Lauer tried to comfort her. The entire watching world cringed simultaneously — and her loyal audience left in droves, thus knocking “Today” off its throne as the No. 1 morning program by “Good Morning America,” a title "Today" held for 15 years.
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And while this was terrible for Curry, it was a delicious twist for Stelter, a media reporter for The New York Times, who was already working on a book about the morning TV wars. “The Ann Curry Disaster happened in June 2012," he says. "At that point I had already been deep inside the show for about six months.”
Stelter then wrote as fast as he could to make sure the topic was still fresh. NBC, who has been attempting damage control ever since Curry left, has been clobbered again by “Top of the Morning,” which paints Matt Lauer, Jim Bell (his former boss), and ex-NBC News president Steve Capus as office bullies who dubbed the systematic removal of Curry as "Operation Bambi." "I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Matt Lauer came out in March and gave interviews and talked about the Ann Curry Disaster for the first time. I think it makes a lot of sense that he was trying to give a pre-rebuttal to my book. A ‘prebuttal,’ if you will,” says Stelter.
But don't cry for "Today." In a way, Stelter thinks the upheaval at our morning television mainstays are a good thing. “I think it’s inevitable that the ‘Today’ show will get back to first place. It’s just a question of when," he says. "‘Good Morning America’ was losing for 15 years; now it’s winning, so they’re not going to let that go without a fight. And what we see on air every day now is that fight — which is very interesting to watch.”