After a couple of days of getting bashed in the press in the wake of the firing of a top executive, NBC News has finally come bashing back. The network's embattled news chief, Deborah Turness, has released an unusual statement debunking some reports which claimed members of "Today's" on-air team had also been fired.
Here's Turness's statement, in full, followed by a bit of context:
"NBC’s TODAY has the best anchor team in morning television. The entire TODAY show anchor team -- Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, Carson Daly, Tamron Hall, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb -- are incredibly talented, valued and have our support. In response to the false rumors that have been circulated about our anchor team, NBC wants to be absolutely clear: The rumors are wrong -- period. This is the team we are committed to. And this is the team that our viewers turn to in the morning."
Now, the context: Us Magazine's website Wednesday morning said that Willie Geist and Natalie Morales -- a pair of "Today's" most visible figures, while Geist has a prominent role on "Morning Joe" -- had been fired, and then sort-of backtracked, noting that...well...maybe they were fired, and then unfired.
Odd, yes, but the last couple of days at NBC News have been odd: Jamie Horowitz, a star producer at ESPN who had been hired to shake up "Today," was fired late Monday -- a massive embarrassment for Turness and others at the network who had vigorously recruited him to do exactly that. Horowitz had indeed sought changes -- what those were are unclear, although I have heard (and this has appeared in other accounts) that Matt Lauer pushed back and demanded his ouster. (Other reports said Horowtiz sought to replace Savannah Guthrie with Hoda Kotb. )
Here, finally, is a point to be made about the culture of morning TV and particularly morning TV of the variety that emerges from 30 Rock: Change comes slowly, but when it comes rapidly -- Ann Curry as a recent example -- catastrophe invariably ensues. In the case of Curry, viewers placed the blame squarely on Lauer -- he has yet to fully recover -- while the loss of another major female anchor like Morales would be damaging as well. "Today" appears to be making babysteps towards some audience parity with "Good Morning America;" those would almost certainly have turned into giant steps backwards in the wake of a wholesale cast change.