New York Times TV critic Mike Hale spent a month watching NBC’s “Today” show. His goal: to try and diagnose the cause behind its recent ratings issues. Much of the piece focused on Ann Curry, the “Today” co-anchor whose future at the program has been the source of constant speculation over the last few months.
If you look at the cast of “Today” as a surrogate family, keeping five million Americans company as they bolt their cereal and check their e-mail, the roles are well defined. There’s Al Roker the jolly uncle (weather), Natalie Morales the brainy, sharp-elbowed cousin (news) and Matt Lauer, Ms. Curry’s co-host, the favorite son with the sardonic sense of humor and the ability to smooth over any uncomfortable situation. Ms. Gifford and Ms. Kotb are the madcap in-laws hosting the show’s fourth-hour cocktail party. (There are no parents, because Americans don’t want their parents around in the morning. Just ask CBS.)
In this scheme Ms. Curry, 55, should figure as the sensible older sister, along the lines of Ms. Vieira, who grew up and moved out (but lately has been dropping by for important occasions, like hosting coverage of the celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s jubilee in London). But as you watch the show, there’s an inescapable sense that Ms. Curry is outside the group in a subtle but unmistakable way, like the stepsister Cinderella without a prince. Part of this is her on-screen rapport with Mr. Lauer, which is entirely cordial and professional but lacks an ease that he exhibited with both Ms. Vieira and her predecessor, Katie Couric.
After watching Ms. Curry closely for a month, I came to think that she and Ms. Pauley had something in common. There is an authenticity to Ms. Curry that sets her apart from Ms. Vieira and especially Ms. Couric, whose genius is for projecting authenticity as part of an artfully constructed, for the most part uncrackable persona.
There are moments in every show when you feel as if you’re registering Ms. Curry’s true feelings, and in the constructed world of the morning show that honesty can work for you or against you. It’s one thing when we know that you’re moved by the story of a sick child. It’s another when we know that you’re bored by and a little contemptuous of a visiting chef.