Ann Curry's messy exit suggests that despite NBC's new regime the new crew has learned nothing from the old crew and the ghost of Conan O’Brien.
Once again, a prominent piece of talent – this time Curry – was left hanging out to dry, embarrassing the network, angering dedicated viewers and rewarding a loyal employee with an undignified escort to the curb.
In the case of Conan O’Brien in 2010, the bungled management of his failed turn as “Tonight Show” host turned the 16-year, true-blue veteran of the network into an embittered enemy with an army of Twitter followers. It spelled the end of network chief Jeff Zucker. It tarnished NBC’s brand and cost them a pile of money.
The departure from the "Today" show of Curry, a 15-year veteran of NBC, may not be as bad a debacle, but it’s hardly been elegant.
Her official exit as "Today" co-host on Thursday followed more than a week of frenzied speculation in the media and on the web about her fate, leading the morning co-host to finally break her silence to USA Today on Wednesday and say that she has been "hurt deeply" by the leaks and gossip.
What happened this time? Insiders tell TheWrap that people within NBC News — Matt Lauer, NBC News chief Steve Capus and “Today” show executive producer Jim Bell — were divided over Curry.
Some felt she was the source of the once-dominant show’s declining ratings. Others said the show itself had lost its dynamism and its wide ratings lead over “Good Morning America” for other reasons.
Ultimately, two insiders told TheWrap, NBC CEO Steve Burke had to step in and adjudicate the situation.
Particularly damaging were the multiple leaks to The New York Times in which unnamed NBC insiders said Curry had too much “empathy,” and lacked chemistry with Lauer. That led Curry’s lawyer Robert Barnett to wring every advantage out of the standoff; he was in no hurry to give NBC a quick conclusion.
So negotiations took more than a week.
On Thursday Curry broke down in tears as she told viewers that she’d be leaving her dream job to be a roving correspondent for NBC News.
For Lauer’s sake, he had better hope ratings start to climb again, because from here on in he won’t have Curry as an excuse.
Savannah Guthrie, Curry's presumed successor, also may face challenges if she gets the job. NBC's high-profile coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games in London — with former "Today" co-host Meredith Vieira already touted as a special correspondent — could leave Guthrie in the shadows.
Television observers — including plenty of passionate commenters on TheWrap and elsewhere – insist that Curry was only a small part of “Today” show’s problems.
And either way, the network has once again managed to wring a lose-lose out of a delicate management situation.
Photos: Getty Images