NBC Affiliates Hoping Sun Will Rise on a Better 'Today'

Questions linger about whether red state-blue state culture war hurt morning TV juggernaut

It's hard to say which scenario
NBC’s affiliates would
have found more unlikely—
that the network would be showing
some real power in primetime, or
that morning monster Today would
be playing catch-up. While the local
TV partners are ecstatic about NBC’s
strong prime, their worries about
Today—from ill-fitting talent to fluffy content—may be mounting.

Bill Jorn, general manager at
KVEO Brownsville (Texas), says
his Today ratings are down 10-
15% year-over-year, and around
20% since Meredith Vieira stepped
off the set in 2011—and the vibe,
he believes, went with her. “The
Today show is not as comfortable
as it used to be,” Jorn says. “The
comfort factor just doesn’t seem to
be there anymore.”

Good Morning America’s ascension
has been well-documented.
Through the week of Oct. 22-26,
the ABC show had been No. 1
in total viewers for 11 straight
weeks, and tops in adults 25-54
for nine.

NBC affiliates offer a wide
range of reasons why Today, once
as reliable as the sunrise, is off its
game. Don Ray, vice president
and general manager at WSAZ
Charleston-Huntington (W. Va.),
suggests the show might be a victim
of the political battles dominating
the national conversation
in recent months. “I think NBC
News gets painted with the same
broad MSNBC brush, fair or not,”
Ray says. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence
that 10 weeks before the
election, people turned away to
watch something else.”

Others deride what they say is a
softer mix of content on Today. “My
news director would prefer it to be
more heavy news than fluffier—he
and I have had that conversation,”
says Derek Rogers, general manager
at WMGT Macon (Ga.), who adds
that he has not seen a difference.

Most feel it’s a personnel issue—
that Ann Curry’s Today promotion,
and subsequent departure,
was mishandled; that Matt Lauer
was dinged up in the imbroglio;
and that Savannah Guthrie hasn’t
yet won her way into America’s
bedrooms and family rooms. “I
believe they simply went through
transition/growing pains after
Meredith’s departure that exposed
weaknesses in their legacy dominance,”
says Evan Pappas, president/
general manager at KOAA
Colorado Springs, who expresses
“great confidence” in the Today
brain trust getting things moving.

Several NBC affiliates said their
Today ratings continue to shine.
“Based on the ratings I’ve seen and
the [advertising] rates that have
been set, it’s never been better,”
says Gayle Kiger, KCEN Waco vice
president and general manager.

NBC affiliates, for the most part,
don’t lose a lot of sleep over Today’s
diminished ratings. The Olympics
were a huge success, they are confident NBC can sustain its primetime
momentum and they’re pleased
with the network’s news division.
And on the Today front, Erica Hill’s
recent move to weekend anchor
was seen by most as a positive.

Dave Lougee, Gannett Broadcasting
president and NBC affiliates board member, says the
“iconic” Today may merely be
mired in a down cycle. “Communication
[with NBC leadership] is
good,” Lougee says. “I give them
very high marks for their collaboration
with affiliates.”

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