More than just a 16-year ratings winning streak was broken in 2012, when NBC’s Today was overtaken by ABC’s Good Morning America. It signaled the start of an extended rough patch for the once-regal and unassailable NBC News, with chronic ratings struggles and a litany of drama in front of and behind the camera.
While GMA is still the leader among the morning show crop, Today has finally begun to chip away in a bid to recapture its former glory, at a time when the NBC News division is in desperate need for some good news. With the Brian Williams situation nearing its peak (the suspended anchor is scheduled to return from his benching in August, though in what role remains unclear), the early days of Andy Lack’s return have shown brief rays of light.
CBS, meanwhile, continues to climb out the basement. Though it remains solidly in third, CBS This Morning is closer to its morning show rivals than it has been a long time.
With the 2014-15 season in the books, here is a look at how the morning shows stack up heading into the summer:
It’s early, but the return of former Today senior producer Noah Oppenheim to run the struggling morning show appears to be paying off. After a more than two-year losing streak to ABC’s Good Morning America, the NBC program has slowly but surely begun to claw its way back.
Following the messy departure of Ann Curry in 2012 (which kicked off Today’s losing streak) and the blink-and-you-missed-it tenure of Jamie Horowitz, the NBC program has finally showed some stability with Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales and Al Roker. On June 1, Today scored the first interview with comedian Tracy Morgan since his accident last summer that left him in critical condition and killed his friend James McNair.
Today outpaced GMA among the adults 25-54 news demo for two straight weeks (May 11, May 18), the first time it had won back-to-back weeks in the demo since January 2013 (excluding Olympics weeks). Today has also led three of the past six weeks and since the start of the year has posted 26 daily demo wins (including the three weekly wins) and a total viewer win.
During May sweeps, Today closed the gap with GMA by 48% in the demo and by 25% among total viewers compared to last year.
The fact that Today winning three of the past six weeks among the news demo counts a major feather in their cap just shows the sizable lead that Good Morning America had amassed over the past three years.
While Today has made inroads, GMA still leads among the morning show group, winning its third straight May sweeps in both total viewers and the news demo. GMA also led the most recent week (May 25) in both measures.
Last month, however, GMA suffered its first bad press of any kind since it topped Today when it revealed coanchor George Stephanopoulos made donations of $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, the charity run by the family of former President Clinton. Stephanopoulos, who also serves as the chief anchor for ABC News, came under scrutiny that he would be unable to objectively cover the 2016 presidential election.
However, the controversy has not appeared to affect Stephanopoulos or GMA’s ratings. Stephanopoulos had the first interview with Rick Santorum after he announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination and the morning show was still No. 1 in the days following Stephanopoulos’ on-air apology.
While Today and GMA tussle for the morning show lead, CBS This Morning has been in third place in both total viewers and the adults 25-54 news demo, though it had perhaps the most encouraging season of any of the three broadcast morning shows.
CBS This Morning finished this season with the best delivery for a CBS morning show in 21 years (1993-94 season). CBS This Morning was the only network morning show that rose among total viewers (+9%) and maintained its rating among the news demo.
For the May sweeps, the CBS program was up 13% in the demo and up 14% with total viewers; the 3.62 million total viewers were the most during the period in over two decades for CBS.
While Today and GMA have been mainstays on the morning, CBS This Morning is only three years old, part of a top-down overhaul by the show’s executive producer and CBS News VP Chris Licht. Charlie Rose and Gayle King, who were part of the show’s makeover, received lengthy contract extensions earlier this year to keep the duo on with Norah O’Donnell.
“We absolutely blew up the whole thing,” Licht said during B&C’s Business of Live TV Summit last fall. Compared to its morning-show competition, which typically go with lighter fare, CBS This Morning has opted for a more newsy alternative, an edict from the highest levels at CBS News.