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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