The upheaval continues.
It has been over a year since NBC fired former star Matt Lauer for sexual misconduct at the height of the #MeToo era, and the Peacock Network continues to face new challenges on a seemingly unending basis.
NBC’s flagship “Today” show is going to need a new co-host, again, as fan favorite Kathie Lee Gifford surprised viewers on Tuesday with a teary-eyed announcement that she will exit the show in April. Gifford’s longtime co-host Hoda Kotb now pulls double duty, as she was tapped to replace Lauer alongside Savannah Guthrie as hosts of the early hours of “Today.” Craig Melvin was added to the mix after months of Kotb and Guthrie hosting together – shaking things up yet again.
Gifford’s shock announcement came only two months after Megyn Kelly’s troubled hour of “Today” was canceled. It’s unclear what the network’s long-term plan is when it comes to replacing the Kelly-hosted hour, much like it’s unclear who will replace Gifford at 10 a.m.
Kelly was dumped despite the high-paid host having about half of her three-year mega contract remaining. As a result, the studio built for Kelly’s hour was abandoned as details of the messy divorce are still being negotiated. The attorney representing Kelly even slammed embattled NBC News chairman Andy Lack for allowing “completely false and irresponsible” rumors to circulate about his client.
Lack — who handed Kelly a three-year contract reportedly worth $69 million in the first place — has been clinging to his gig atop NBC News amid numerous scandals and embarrassments. The NBC News honcho famously spiked Ronan Farrow’s reporting on now-disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Farrow later took his reporting to the prestigious New Yorker magazine where he won the Pulitzer Prize and helped launch the #MeToo movement.
The NBC News leader has attempted to explain why his network refused to run the Weinstein reporting, but Farrow criticized his explanation. The celebrity scion plans to explain why NBC wouldn’t run his reporting in an upcoming book, with is expected to create a new batch of negative headlines for his former network.
Lack has said there were no ulterior motives to punting the story, but there is widespread speculation that NBC News President Noah Oppenheim – who moonlights as a Hollywood screenwriter – didn’t want to upset a Hollywood powerhouse such as Weinstein. Others have speculated that Lack’s NBC News had a “glass house” problem, as Lauer was fired shortly after the Weinstein story broke.
Farrow has continued to break major stories on a regular basis since escaping NBC News.
Meanwhile, critics have attacked NBC News for not doing more to combat sexual misconduct since Lauer was shown the door. After refusing to hire an outside investigator, NBC News executives eventually declared that management was completely oblivious to Lauer’s widespread sexual wrongdoings. Kelly – herself a champion of the #MeToo movement – even irked network executives by taking on air shots at NBC over the situation.
The controversial Lauer review was headed by NBCUniversal General Counsel Kim Harris, as opposed to an independent, white-shoe law firm – which has of late been de rigueur for other news organizations dealing with sexual harassment.
The findings directly contradicted a Washington Post bombshell that former “Today” co-host Ann Curry complained to two senior managers about Lauer’s behavior.
“NBC has seemingly done nothing more than take empty steps custom-built for press releases,” former NBC anchor Linda Vester wrote in a recent op-ed.
Vester – who has accused legendary NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw of sexual misconduct, a claim he denies – has publicly bickered with NBC parent company Comcast over the network’s actions.
NBC News was also criticized for sitting on the “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women. The tape was leaked from within NBC News to the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold – who also won a 2017 Pulitzer as part of his investigative digging into Trump.
Oppenheim’s role in the “Access Hollywood” debacle has raised eyebrows, as he is close friends with Fahrenthold from prestigious Harvard University. NBC has denied that Oppenheim leaked the tape to Fahrenthold, who was later given a paid consultancy with the network.
Back in May, NBC News leadership was subjected to a devastatingly harsh column in the Washington Post by former New York Times ombudsman Margaret Sullivan headlined, “All the problems at NBC News aren’t just coincidence. They’re symptoms.”
“Something is wrong at NBC, and by the traditional standard that the person at the top sets the tone and bears ultimate responsibility, it’s hard to absolve NBC Chairman Andy Lack,” Sullivan wrote. “The network’s credibility is on the line.”
Meanwhile, Gifford is far from the first “Today” fan favorite to exit prematurely.
Billy Bush was exiled for simply appearing in the “Access Hollywood” tape. Natalie Morales was vanished to the West Coast in 2016 and Curry broke down in tears when she announced on-camera that she was being removed from “Today” in 2012. Tamron Hall, abruptly left “Today” in 2017 when she learned Kelly would be taking her 9 a.m. ET timeslot.
NBC’s troubles aren’t limited to its morning show and sexual misconduct scandals, as the once-proud news division has been caught up in a variety of embarrassing situations in recent memory. It has only been three years since Brian Williams was famously caught embellishing his war reporting experience, resulting in a suspension before being demoted from the network’s flagship nightly newscast “Nightly News” to MSNBC.
“Nightly News” even appeared to have been duped by North Korean propagandists earlier this year and NBC News infuriated veterans last month when a reporter was forced to apologize to a wounded veteran on his way to vote after blocking a disabled parking spot during a live shot.
MSNBC star Joy Reid infamously claimed hateful rhetoric on her pre-fame blog was planted by diabolical hackers – a claim that quickly fell apart. Despite the bizarre situation, Reid continues to host a show on MSNBC.
But despite the litany of troubles at NBC, there is a silver lining. “Today” has somehow managed to maintain a ratings streak amid the chaos.
“The long-running NBC morning show has now finished No. 1 in morning TV across the board for won seven consecutive weeks now, and is now starting to threaten ‘Good Morning America’ as the No. 1 morning show across the board for the broadcast season to-date,” TVNewser’s A.J. Katz wrote on Tuesday.
That would be an unlikely Christmas present indeed.