The New York Times has an excerpt from Brian Stelter's new book about the morning show wars, and it has all the blow-by-blow details of Ann Curry's humiliating departure from the Today show. Stelter—who obviously picked a good year to embed himself inside the shady world of morning television—explains how Curry's tenure on the show was doomed from the very start, leading the show's executive producer to not-so-secretly engineer her firing.
It's a classic tale of office politics and intrigue, but one that is filled with gossipy details and is shockingly reminiscent of other blunders perpetrated by the exact same network in the past. In this version of events, Curry's tenure was a disaster from the start as she didn't get along with co-host Matt Lauer and believes she was undermined by the network "boys club." (The crew apparently made blooper reels of her on-air gaffes and mocked her clothing choices in the control room.) When Good Morning America began to threaten Today's 16-year streak of ratings week victories, the decision was made to dump Curry in a three-part plan that Executive Producer Jim Bell dubbed "Operation Bambi." (He called it that because a friend told him firing Curry would be like "killing Bambi.")
Both Bell and Lauer deny quite a few of the more embarrassing accusations charges made in Stelter's story, including the use of that "Operation Bambi" term. (And the show doesn't exactly get along with the Times.) Lauer also allegedly said to a production assistant about Curry, “I can’t believe I am sitting next to this woman."
According to Stelter, Bell never wanted Curry for the job and had quietly reached out to Megyn Kelly of Fox News and even Robin Roberts, and successors to Meredith Viera in 2011. But much like the situation with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show, the network made two classic blunders. They erred on the side of loyalty, with one of Bell's bosses believing that the lifelong NBC veteran was owed the opportunity. Second, they worried that if Curry left, she might end up as a direct competitor on another network. Both consideration trumped finding the best person for the job.
Just like the Conan situation (and the Bryant Gumbel-Deborah Norville debacle a decade earlier), it went sour and the network was forced to pull a very public and very embarrassing do-over. Curry was forced out for the more likable Savannah Guthrie after less than a year, Lauer has become the fall guy, and Good Morning America has seized the lead.
Stelter's full-length book on the subject, Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV comes out next week.