Unintended Consequences…Or, How To Deplete a Talent Bench in Five Easy Steps…

Today’s Weekend Today changes technically fall outside of my cable news domain. That said, there is tangential potential cable news impact here. Plus there are some stories that I just can’t sit on my hands for and this would be one of them because it ties together a bunch of loose ends that have been bouncing around the old noggin for a while. Thus expect this piece to go all over the place…

In case you missed it, the news…which isn’t news actually…is NBC announced the long ago leaked out news that Erica Hill would be joining Weekend Today. What was news, however, was the part about Jenna Wolfe getting demoted. Though NBC tried very hard to frame Wolfe’s new duties as of the “not a demotion” variety, she just went from anchoring a Sunday show to not anchoring any show and no amount of perfume is going to make that turd smell sweet.

On the whole NBC did something it needed to do years ago…it unified Weekend Today behind a single anchor team. No more of this Saturday/Sunday splitting the team that’s been going on since Campbell Brown left NBC for CNN. Brown left CNN over a year ago…Yeah…it’s been that long. Anyway, Weekend Today finally has the unified front it should have had four years ago. But it’s coming with a potentially heavier price tag than one would have expected.

NBC has frequently played up how deep and resilient its bench is. Well by going out and getting an outsider tossed on CBS’ scrapheap, demoting one of its own,  and nearly slamming the ceiling shut on a third person I’ll be discussing in a moment, NBC, by its actions, has created the appearance of casting a big “no confidence” vote in that bench. If there is that much of a bench anymore.

Norah O’Donnell bolted to CBS after seeing her career path dry up. Amy Robach bolted to ABC soon after Savannah Guthrie was named Todsy Show anchor leaving people like me to wonder if there was a connection (it would have had the indirect result of blocking Robach’s career path at NBC where she only anchored regularly one day a week).

Now consider Tamron Hall. A few years ago the word on the street was Hall was intent on leaving MSNBC/NBC for ABC where there was talk of pairing her with Ashleigh Banfield who was freelancing with the network at that time. NBC didn’t want to lose Hall and worked its butt off to get her to stay. It raised her profile. She appeared more frequently on the Today Show. The  kibitzers were saying that if either Robach or Wolfe left Weekend Today, Hall was a near certain lock to get the gig. Well Hall not only didn’t get the gig, an outsider with little track record of success who got a very public no confidence vote from her previous employer after less than a year on that network’s newly rebooted morning show.

Look, I like Erica Hill. I was watching her back when she was on TechTV with Michaela Pereira and most of you didn’t even know her name. But, that said, I have been scratching my head for years as I watched her career continue to rise as she jumped from higher profile gig to even higher profile gig, while at the same time not having the kind of resume or background that one would normally associate such moves…and having a track record of not moving the ratings dial any and yet still continuing to rise up. It’s like the laws of network ratings physics didn’t apply for her.

The only career case study more perplexing than Hill’s in recent years has been Savannah Guthrie’s. Like Hill, I have nothing against Guthrie. I like her. I just am unable to comprehend why her career path has gone the way it has based on her resume and the amount of ratings success she (hasn’t) had along the way. From what I hear’ the Today Show has won only two weeks since the Olympics and yet Guthrie is anchoring three hours which even highly paid Matt Lauer doesn’t do (this practice will apparently end when Willie Geist joins Today at 9am soon). Guthrie is regularly filling in for Brian Williams on Nightly. She even makes appearances on Meet The Press and MSNBC. This level of exposure for someone that junior is unprecedented in NBC’s history; especially if you factor in the lack of success Today has had in re-seizing the #1 spot from ABC’s GMA that has occurred since she arrived. It’s quite stunning actually. I wouldn’t go so far as to say NBC is force feeding Guthrie down its viewers’ throats but one could be excused for entertaining thoughts on the subject given how she shows up everywhere on that channel.

It’s almost like NBC is doing the exact opposite of what it used to do with talent. For decades NBC positioned talent on high flying Today as the tie in to get viewers to watch other NBC properties where that talent normally worked. Now it seems like NBC is positioning Guthrie all over NBC’s air in the hopes of luring viewers back to Today where she normally works. If this is NBC’s strategy, the jury is still out as to whether it will work.

But I see I’ve digressed. I told you this piece would wander. Back to Hill and Hall…

With Hill now firmly entrenched at Weekend Today and Willie Geist moving over to the 9am hour of Today, Hall’s future career aspirations at NBC have seemingly dwindled down to perpetual fill-in duty at NBC…something she’s been doing less and less of than she was a year ago. That she got passed over for Weekend Today in favor of outsider Hill, whose career was severely damaged by CBS’ lightning quick dropping of her from the CBS This Morning after doing so much to push her as a rising star at the network, has to sting at least a little. I don’t know Hall’s contract situation, but one has to wonder if she will look at the new pecking order at NBC and decide her career path options are now too restricted and, if NBC doesn’t step up and create an opening for her, will she come to the conclusion that after NBC wooed her hard to stay last time that she’s now better off joining O’Donnell and Robach as former NBC employees who decided their futures lay elsewhere? Or, if NBC does nothing to futher her career opportunities, does Hall want to stay essentially as an MSNBC employee for years to come despite the direction that network is going and the reputation as a newsless politically left leaning POV analysis network which it is now openly coveting? Time will tell on that. If Hall does end up bolting, NBC’s much-vaunted-for-years power bench will have been all but depleted because O’Donnell, Robach, Guthrie, Geist, and Hall essentially were that bench.

Just to be clear: I am not criticizing either Hill or Guthrie. I like them both. This article was about how networks operate and how they use and move talent, not an article about the talent themselves. If a network offers you an opportunity for higher exposure and a bigger future, you’re not going to turn it down. You’re going to jump at it and hope things work out as they were pitched to you. Sometimes things blow up spectacularly as they did for Hill just as it did for Ashleigh Banfield at NBC, Campbell Brown when she jumped to CNN, or (twice) for Alexis Glick; first at NBC and then at FBN. That is something almost entirely out of a talent’s control. This business is brutal. One moment your riding high at a network, the next you inexplicably find yourself stuck in the network’s Los Angeles bureau. Regimes change. Loyalties change. Pecking orders change. There is no security. And I lay blame for that far more on the networks and their fickle “we like you…uh…now we don’t” attitudes than I ever would on the talent. The networks build you up one moment, they tear you down the next. You need a cast iron stomach to work in this industry.


34 Responses to “Unintended Consequences…Or, How To Deplete a Talent Bench in Five Easy Steps…”

  1. Makes me wonder why didn’t choose Jansing or Witt , Alex witt’s been on MSNBC a long time , would seem time to be promoted.

  2. On the section about Hill, it sounds like we’ve known her about as long as I have, and it was odd how she migrated about. TechTV to Headline News, then to hosting her own program as Headline Prime, followed by newsreader on Anderson Cooper, then The Early Show – the lone survivor to CBS This Morning, and now over to Weekend Today. You have to wonder what she has that no one else does to migrate this much.

  3. I don’t think the problem is the talent of the various hosts you discuss it just that they don’t pick one and let her grow with the show. If ratings aren’t there in a couple of months; your gone.

    It took years for hosts like Katie Couric or Barbara Walters to develop profile and a build a fan following. That’s not allowed anymore; so hosts are hired and then dumped in a mad dash for ratings.

  4. None of the people mentioned in this article bring much of anything to the programs they have been on. Erica Hill with AC was ok, not great and i was amazed that she moved to CBS. (I guess I still think moving from a cable station to one of the big 3 is a move upward).

    Tamron Hall has bought into the MSNBC lean forward stuff so well I think it would be very hard to move her to NBC.

    That Jenna person was not someone I ever liked. I really like Lester Holt who she was paired with and never thought they had much chemistry as a team. Jenna actually made a comment one time about their age difference and how Lester might not know what she was talking about! Yikes! Not so subtle jab as your co-host there Jenna!

    I thought Savannah did a good job back in the day on Court TV but she is really not ready for AM prime time and her chemistry with Matt Lauer is not great, IMO.

    As far as Ashleigh Banfield – how does she keep getting TV jobs? My goodness, that woman is a train wreck coming and going! Does she have any where to go any more?

    I agree, the business is brutal and it shows how hard it is to find people that work well together and can have that chemistry with the audience be shared effortlessly.

  5. I like how you worked in an oblique Chris Jansing reference…

  6. I dont know if there is some god that lives somewhere that sees NBC and is punishing it for the crimes that it has committed against journalists. NBC is not doing any better than it was a couple months ago when Ann Curry was the Co anchor of today actually it is doing far worst with a badly produced good bye reel that was ran according to the new york times that actually never ran. The crimes that NBC has committed has looked pass journalists that has earned their way to the position that they are currently at at the network. Jenna Wolf has been working the sunday beet with lester holt for quite a while and to be suddenly taken out of a seat and then to be placed to stand in a corner must be demeaning. One must stop and ask themselves if it is because of the recent win by Weekend GMA beating Weekend today that caused them to replace her. However, when the executives at NBC were making the decision didn’t they stop to ask themselves if they would feel a backlash like the one they felt after they dumped ann curry. You speak about how can savanna be stomach by the audiences at NBC you stop and say she cant, if you saw the special that was prepared on rockcenter thursday you saw that she cannot prepare a report that captures the feeling of what the devastation was like in the aftermath of hurricane sandy. one must ask themselves now though as i agree with you is Hall the next one to go? Will Jenna Wolf join her as she is unable to find any upward mobility since she has been “shit on” (escuse my french) or is she as loyal as Ann Curry – a golden retriever used to walk a blind network that has lost its way. Does Rockefeller Center need an actual bus park outside to throw it talent under or will the skating rink do.

  7. Weekend Today and Early Today have generally been a death sentence for NBC talent.

  8. Spud, you’re slipping dude. I recall an email from you between 2005-2008 saying ya don’t like Erica Hill. Don’t remember the specifics but could probably produce it if Gawker wants to pay me the big bucks. j/k

  9. You’d have to produce it since I don’t recall it. It could have happened. I’ve flip flopped on talent before. But I’d need to see the context to see what I was talking about.

  10. I know this article and the associated thread is primarily about women television personalities. But how about the Willie Geist promotion. I continue to be totally baffled by this move considering he doesn’t even really contribute in any meaningful way to Morning Joe..

    Willie seems like a nice enough person, which may play well with a largely female audience in the 9 am hour. But other than that, what does he really bring to the table other than being pleasant?

    A lackluster reserved on-camera presence bereft of interesting commentary and handicapped by the lack of incisive dialogue and a somewhat humorless style.

    I don’t know that the Today producers were thinking. Fred Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood wasn’t available?

  11. Let’s be honest here…Jenna Wolfe is simply not a ‘well liked’ personality. For a show like Weekend Today, your Warm & Fuzzy rating had better be near the top of the scale, or you’re gonna get cut, and Jenna has always been too loud, too brash and not nearly middle-of-the-road enough for an early morning show like Today. That’s why it never made sense to me that NBC let Amy Robach walk…if they had offered her both days on the weekend edition, instead of splitting her and Jenna between Lester, she’d still be there with her America’s Sweetheart smile and Blonde hair and the show would have had its unified front! Now they’ve got a similar situation to what they were faced with when they dumped Ann Curry…and whether Jenna Wolfe was loved by the public or not, that’s exactly what they don’t need right now!

  12. Searched 2006-2008 email archives for an hour and can’t find it. Not big deal, not looking anymore.

  13. But how about the Willie Geist promotion. I continue to be totally baffled by this move considering he doesn’t even really contribute in any meaningful way to Morning Joe..

    I get your point. I consider Geist defensive move. Attempts have been made to poach him before and NBC didn’t want to lose him so it had to step up with something. This is also why I think David Gregory got the Meet the Press gig even though others were more qualified for it.

  14. I know this article and the associated thread is primarily about women television personalities.

    I want to address this issue separately as it was on my mind as I was writing it. Is it just me or does this seem to happen a lot more to female talent than male talent and why do you think that may be so?

  15. I liked Jenna Wolfe. Will not be watching weekend today any more.

  16. I have switched to GMA since the Ann Curry disaster and will do likewise since Jenna Wolfe seems to be getting the same “treatment”. Sorry, I will miss you, Lester.

  17. I agree that it seems to be more about “immediate ratings”, rather than letting the person get comfortable in the ‘hot seat”. We here all loved Ann Curry, her warmth, her empathy, her humble responses to any praise, and quick to praise everyone around her.

    We have never cared for Jenna, very brash, very loud, annoying, but we do like Lester. I hope that Erica gets the chance to “warm up” the seat, before the “suits” decide in a few months that she isn’t cutting it with the ratings fast enough, and scrap her like they did poor Ann.

    We have stopped watching The Today Show, weekdays, after 40 plus years of daily viewing, simply because we don’t like Savannah as a TV personality, and can’t stand the way the “suits” brought her in and booted out Ann. It was SHAMEFUL!.

    I felt sorry for Jenna today, having to sit there on the bench and “smile”, but we will watch the Weekend Today Show more for now, because, (as we were not familiar at all with Erica, as we WERE loyal NBC watchers,) we did like her personality this morning on her debut. We will see, but everybody better watch their backs there, because the NBC ‘suits’ seem to have their heads up their….. and obviously don’t think thru before they act. They are the ones who should have been ‘scrapped” a long time ago!

  18. Where are you people coming from? I can’t figure it out. Someone must’ve linked to this story but I can’t figure out who or where.

  19. I think it is shameful what NBC has done to both Ann Curry and Jenna Wolfe. I, too, have switched to GMA and find the interaction between the cohosts quite enjoyable. I do like Lester Holt, but do not care for Erica Hill. I enjoyed Jenna Wolfe’s humor and upbeat personality. I am not sure which audience NBC is trying to butter up, but I am not a part of it. It seems to me that Natalie Morales, Jenna Wolfe, Ann Curry and Tamron Hall are all getting the shaft!

  20. motownman Says:

    Jenna and Tamron are not getting the shaft
    Both are terrible
    Jenna looked very upset in her newsreader role today
    Too bad
    I’m sure this makes Amy Robach feel better about jumping to ABC
    Amy should have been hosting both days all along
    Just like Chris Jansing should be hosting Today, though that will never happen

  21. maewestwyoming Says:

    The only reason I continued to watch NBC after Ann Curry left was because I liked Jenna Wolfe better than any newscaster I have ever seen before. I loved her humor and her attitude! She always brightened my day. Now she is gone, I will be switching mostly to CBS. I see no reason to watch NBC in the morning at all any more. Every time I do, it just reminds me of how the administration at NBC seems to go out of their way to search for ways to humiliate their employees in front of millions of viewers. What planet are those guys from anyway? I’m looking forward to see where Jenna goes next! I certainly hope she doesn’t stay with NBC! I won’t be watching if she does!

  22. I think the chemistry between Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer is a bit weak. I didn’t care much for Savannah initially, but I think I mostly blame that on Matt. It seems, sometimes, that Savannah is almost looking for Matt’s approval. While I think Matt is a good journalist, I think his time at Today has expired. He needs to get moved to special assignments or, perhaps, Nightly News. I think Willy Geist is being positioned as a possible replacement for Matt which is a smart move. In my opinion, Al Roker also needs to go. He doesn’t bring anything to the show other than a familiar face. Today needs a more consistent, refreshed weather team. On another note, Hoda Kotb is being under utilized and I would like to see her in a main anchor role–not sitting next to Kathie Lee. Oh, and while we’re at it, the Today Show is in desperate need of a new set. Lets get it together, NBC…

  23. I agree that Willie Geist is being tested and groomed as Matt’s replacement. Willie would be great. I watch him not only on Morning Joe, but on Up Too Early (his own 30 minute program which airs right before Morning Joe). He is terrific- smart, witty, informed, modest and likable. I’ll give Matt the smart, but Willie’s got him on every other mark. If I were Matt I’d be very worried.

    As for Jenna. Well, I feel bad about her public demotion. But for the life of me I could never understand how she got the gig in the first place. Way too loud, and in your face. I think she’d be a terrific sports anchor but not news anchor. Too much Jenna.

  24. I will miss Jenna. She is a light with Lester on the morning. I hope she doesn’t stay on the end of the couch as an afterthought. It is an insult to her. She looked so uncomfortable today. As far as Willie Geist, watch him at 5:30 when I’m up, and on Morning Joe. He is affable and sweet, but not good enough to replace Matt when the time comes. I switched to ABC weekday mornings after NBC canned Ann. She was tops. They should replace all the “suits”.

  25. Wow!! and I thought it was just me! ~ I stopped watching the Today Show as soon as they brought Savannah Guthrie on board… and I was no die-hard fan of Ann Curry either but Savannah Guthrie… are you kidding me? ~ And now that weekend Today is a mess, well it frees up hours of TiVo time !

    On a personal note, I always liked Jenna Wolfe’s energy and exuberance, a nice compliment to “buttoned down” Lester.

    IMO if the Today Show wants a future, it may be time to get rid of some over paid, tired anchors, i.e Matt Lauer and Al Roker,sorry boys but it’s probably time for you to write your memoirs now !

    Meantime, what’s the Comcast channel for GMA?… it’s time to re-program the TiVo ! ~


  26. olradtek1 Says:

    Well, I stopped watching the weekday Today when Guthrie with NO talent, except a lisp, was promoted. I loved Jenna Wolfe’s love of life. She would have been my choice to replace Ann Curry. Yet, NBC now has lost me as a weekend watcher, too. Lester is as boring as Matt has become. It’s like Matt only phones in his appearannce. And yet his contract is renewed. Good Morning America deserves my watching. No More Today!
    Jean Scott, Fort Myers, Florida

  27. Who knew there was a bastion of broadcast morning news show viewers waiting to be heard?

  28. I have also stopped watching NBC after forty plus years. Msnbc, with that bleached blond bobble headed, space cadet mica is also off my viewing list. She is a disaster and adds not one thing to morning joe. I love Alex Witt and my very favorite is Norah Odonnell. I’ve formed to abc and fox.

  29. Ann’s shafting was a disgrace and Jenna Wolfe’s obvious discomfort this weekend was painful to watch….how embarrassing for her!! I love Ann and Jenna for different reasons. Nobody does a hardship news story like Ann and Jenna is a breath of fresh air. I love the Today Show but I don’t get it. I am starting to warm up a bit to Savannah, obviously a very intelligent woman. Too bad it doesn’t translate into her posture at the co-anchor chair. She always looks like she’s trying to minimize her physical existence.

  30. Will sorely miss Jenna on the weekends. She’s young, hip and not afraid to speak her mind. I feel, many are afraid of her talent and feel threatened by her presence. She is not in the mold of the other females at NBC. Not a cookie cutter type. Refreshing to say the least.

  31. So disappointed in the today show! Frankly I am sick of seeing all of the young,hip, beautiful 30 year old women being paraded in front of …. who? Who do they think watches the Today Show and for what reason?
    It has become a beauty pageant not a news show.
    And I feel sorry for the young women who are being promoted and demoted so quickly it is hard to keep up with the revolving door.
    The men however, don’t suffer this reality. What is the magic attraction that keeps Matt there.
    I find him boring and out of touch with main stream life.
    I have watched the Today show for 50 years and maybe it’s time to stop.
    Dissappointed in Grand Rapids, MI.

  32. I like Jenna Wolfe and liked the vibe she and Lester had (Amy fit in nicely too). They made a great team and they genuinely liked each other. Lester gets along with Erica, BUT the CHEMISTRY is NOT there. She is the one that should be reading the news because she has that kind of energy. She does not have the enthusiasm or “easy feeling” that Jenna does and that is what I liked and now miss about Weekend Today. I miss seeing Jenna, the co-host and don’t like Erika the co-host. I like the easy chemistry of weekend GMA that is now gone from WeekendToday . I am switching to GMA because it is too hard to watch a forced, stale, canned, and unnatural program; this is why I have never stayed with CBS This Morning… all of their teams (even when Harry was cohost) give the same stale, forced, and stiff energy. Jenna, I am sorry this has happened.

  33. […] Unintended Consequences…Or, How To Deplete a Talent …Nov 1, 2012 – Amy Robach bolted to ABC soon after Savannah Guthrie was named … Guthrie is anchoring three hours which even highly paid Matt Lauer doesn’t do (this ….. It seems to me that Natalie Morales, Jenna Wolfe, Ann Curry and … insidecablenews.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/unintended-consequences-or-how-to-deple […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: