By Verne Gay Newsday
The media have been pounding on Matt Lauer — a front-page story last week in The New York Times; tabloid reports about his imminent ouster — but what’s really going on with the great “Today” slump?
First, Lauer is not the reason for the collapse of “Today.” Oh, sure, as the $25-million man, he must shoulder some of the blame — that’s what he gets paid for. But he’s not the only reason.
Let’s go to the bullets:
Ann Curry’s ouster has had little to do with the decline of “Today.” Of course, it was handled poorly, but not nearly as poorly as when Jane Pauley was pushed out the window for Deborah Norville in 1990.
What’s happening now has been gradual viewer abandonment. In fact, viewers had been dropping steadily ever since Curry became co-anchor of “Today” in June 2011.
Week after week, “Good Morning America” was adding viewers during her run; week after week, “Today” was shedding them. Within a month, “GMA” won the crown for the first time in 16 years.
“Today’s” gradual decline accompanied NBC’s slow-motion implosion in prime time. How can you promote the morning if no one’s watching at night?
So what is conclusion can be drawn from all this?
Simple: More viewers like “Good Morning America” than “Today.”
Why? Viewers love Robin Roberts, who recently emerged from a wrenching, life-threatening ordeal.
They like the show’s energy, which is several hundred megawatts higher than that of “Today.”
They like this “family” better. “GMA” has done a superior job of selling that phony family vibe.
They like the show’s sense of immediacy. “GMA,” for example, often brings the audience right into the studio; at “Today,” their noses are pressed up against the window.
They like the content. Sure, it’s more tabloidy, but it’s not as though “Today” doesn’t have its share of schlock too.
They like George Stephanopoulos. He gives it gravitas — even when he’s interviewing a “Dancing With the Stars” cast member.
Conclusion. “Today” is in second place because “GMA” has done a better job of attracting viewers. It’s that simple.