Today Show Hosts

I’m a big Joan Rivers fan, mainly for her ability to tell it like it is. And last week Rivers engaged in yet another piece of typical truth telling…

As you may have read Joan poked fun at ousted Today anchor Ann Curry – which generated a typically heated response online. But the part of Joan’s act that most interested me was when she complained that the Today show had rested on its laurels for too long… and that’s why their ratings had recently taken a downward spin. We all know the story. Today was the number one morning show for over 17 years… and now they’re number 2. And don’t forget this is a show that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue for NBC. It’s a money making machine!

You may or may not like Rivers and her routines – but she speaks the truth – and there’s a valuable lesson for a lot of TV producers out there. I moved to the US almost 8 years ago and was a faithful Today watcher for all those years. But a couple of weeks ago I switched over to Good Morning America myself. And I don’t plan on going back.

Everything about Good Morning America feels fresher. The team camaraderie feels real and the fun doesn’t feel forced. The show zips along faster. There’s more camera movement. The set is brighter. They use songs from the current pop charts at the top of the show. The whole show just feels fresher.

The Today show by contrast has been feeling lumpy for a long time now. Matt Lauer comes across as impatient and unhappy. Al Roker continues to do his hideous corny uncle shtick. And Savannah Guthrie and Natalie Morales are identikit pretty anchors – swap them around and I doubt anyone would notice.

Meanwhile the Today show itself doesn’t seem to know when to move on from a story – the endless coverage of the new Pope, Kate’s baby, the Manti T’eo saga. And the show’s interviews are so utterly toothless they’re almost pointless. I’ve lost count of how many times Matt has allowed certifiable crazies like Michelle Bachmann to come and spout utter nonsense, unchallenged. The whole show now feels lazy – and viewers have responded accordingly.

Of course the Today show isn’t alone. Check out American Idol, which this season has literally nose-dived in the ratings. And no wonder when the show continues to trot out stale themes including Motown Week, Beatles Week and Classic Rock Week, while restricting contestants to the same old songs. Seriously the Idol producers are some of the laziest people working in TV these days. You can say many things about The X Factor (and I certainly have), but you can’t deny that the show allows fresher song choices and far more elaborate staging. It’s definitely not lazy.

Another example? Why is America’s Next Top Model DOA in the ratings these days – while Survivor and The Amazing Race are still going strong? Because Top Model didn’t deviate from its central premise until too late in its run. This summer Model will be introducing male contestants to the show – a great idea if had been implemented sometimes around cycle 5 – not cycle 20!

In this golden age of TV viewers simply have too many choices and shiny new options to distract them. And formulas start feeling, well, formulaic pretty soon! I loved Project Runway in its early seasons but there are only so many times you can watch designers breaking down and malfunctioning sewing machines. The format has hardly changed in years.

Can the Today show turn itself around? Absolutely. The same for Idol. They’re both terrific shows at their hearts – but they need retooling – and fast! And until they acknowledge there’s a problem nothing will change. Today is already working on its reboot – while Idol still seems to be in denial. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on both fronts in the months to come…