‘Today’ show at 70 years: The enduring influence of morning television

Ten years ago on a Thursday morning, I was congregating in the famous plaza of Rockefeller Center to interview devotees from The Today Show. I remember meeting a mother and her daughter who had taken a flight from Salt Lake City just to be there, outside the studio looking, to celebrate their 60th birthday of their favorite show. They gave me something indispensable in the media: an overview in the eye of the fans.

Fast forward ten years, and “Today” is about to air another gig on TV, this time on its 70th birthday. It will be quieter this time around, due to Covid-19 restrictions and changing consumer habits. It looks like the top-rated days of Today are long gone. However, it is still a very profitable part of NBC News and an important organization for NBCUniversal as a whole.

“Today” invented the idea of ​​morning television, spurring competitors like “GMA”, “CBS Mornings” and no less than a dozen “Rise and Shine” programs on cable.

Nowadays, television networks and streaming services operate 24/7, but in 1952, breakfast-hour broadcasting was an extreme idea. Television was still a new medium. Local stations usually only show a test pattern at 7am. There was no reason for families to turn on their new TVs in the morning – until NBC gave them a reason by creating the “Today” show. This was a huge problem because once the TV was turned on in the morning, the group tended to stay put – a factor in the amazing rise in video consumption since then.

How is NBC celebrating this anniversary

On Thursday, some of the “Today” hosts visited the Empire State Building. The building was lit up in orange in the evening to mark the 70th anniversary of the exhibition. Co-host Savannah Guthrie was absent, due to her recent positive test for the Covid virus.

Guthrie hosted “Today” from home earlier in the week due to a positive test. She said she felt some “little sniffles, not much more.”

The main NBC event to celebrate the anniversary is a celebration live on Friday, the actual Christmas.

“We have some surprises, we have some games, we have some emotional moments,” Executive Producer Tom Mazzarelli told TVNewser.

If Guthrie tests negative before Friday, she will be in the studio for the show. Otherwise, you will join from home.

Rumor sites have fueled speculation about whether Matt Lauer, who was fired from the show in 2017 after complaining about “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,” would appear in flashbacks on the show. “We will take a look at our history, which is part of our history, as with all the correspondents for the past 70 years. You will see it,” Mazzarelli said.

Back in time to the first broadcast

When I watched the old Today show tapes of my book Top of the Morning, it was great to see how many now-familiar morning TV features were made on the first broadcast of 1952. Examples: A format in which you can set your watch; A key man and his companions, sharing personal details about themselves between news clips; Live reports from remote towns; Weather clip with country map.

Founding producer Sylvester “Pat” Weaver wanted the new show to simulate radio, as it would be a kind of background noise as listeners prepared for the day. This hypothesis is still valid today. “We cannot and should not attempt to construct a display that will cause people to sit in front of the set and divert their attention to the screen,” Weaver wrote in a note. “We want America to shave, eat, dress, and get to work on time. But we also want America to be well-informed, entertaining, luminous in spirit and heart, and strengthened by inner resolution through knowledge.”

Reading these words several decades later, what stood out to me was the sense that “America” ​​was one cohesive unit, one group that would all watch the same show. Now the country is split between “Fox & Friends,” “Morning Joe,” and dozens of other options.

My other takeaway: Weaver understood, by metaphor of a television axiom, that “people watch people.” Even if you’re only listening halfway down the hall, you want to know and trust the person you’re hearing. Dave Garaway, the first host of “Today,” had a casual style but serious core. Of his often-cited casualness, Garroway once said, “Nobody knows how hard it must be for me to look that way.”

Incidentally, the biggest news on that January day in 1952 was the White House’s nomination of the Vatican’s envoy pulling out amid the controversy, pulling down his flak jackets. How strange. Here’s a look back at the episode and how it came to be.

How is the “Today” Show Expanding?

Over the decades, “Today” has featured some of television’s best talent, both on and off camera. Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumble, Katie Couric, and Meredith Vieira were a few of the co-hosts throughout the year. Weaver, the founding producer, went on to run NBC Entertainment entirely. Decades later, genius executive producer Jeff Zucker went on to power every NBC network. (Zucker is now president of CNN Worldwide.)

What used to be a purely morning TV show is now a round-the-clock multimedia brand, in part due to lower mainstream broadcast rates. “Today” focused on streaming and podcast options, among other extensions.

“It’s bigger than it’s ever been,” Mazzarelli told TVNewser. “You have four hours, you have social networks, you have a digital broadcast channel, you have a podcast. But at the core, it’s the show and what people used to play in the morning. We just tried to build on that, and that’s what we did.”

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