March 5, 2021

Paula Deen Is a ‘No-Show’ on ‘Today’

Paula Deen, the self-proclaimed queen of Southern cooking and a sugary mainstay of both the Food Network and the “Today” show, failed to appear on “Today” for a scheduled exclusive interview Friday morning with Matt Lauer, citing exhaustion.

Ms Deen had agreed to the interview, extensively promoted by NBC News on Thursday night, to address the uproar generated this week by her statements in a deposition for a discrimination lawsuit by a former employee. In the deposition, she admitted she had used racial epithets, tolerated racist jokes and condoned pornography in the workplace.

Clearly upset by her absence on Friday, Mr. Lauer told viewers that Ms Deen had spoken with him on Thursday, agreed to an “open and candid” discussion, flown to New York City — but in the morning, had her representatives cancel. “We just found out she’s a no-show,” he said. On Twitter, he added, “Hoping to get more info on the Paula Deen situation soon. Very confusing.”

She posted a Twitter message at noon saying, “I will be releasing a video statement shortly.”

Ms. Deen, 66, commands a small culinary empire, having produced numerous cookbooks, starred in cooking shows and served as a spokeswoman for Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Smithfield Foods. She and her sons own and operate a restaurant in Savannah, Ga. Her magazine “Cooking with Paula Deen,” has a circulation of nearly 1 million, her Web site says.

But Ms. Deen has managed to offend even her most uncritical fans before, most recently in January 2012 when she announced her diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes on the same day she endorsed the diabetes drug Victoza and a lucrative collaboration with Novo Nordisk, the drug’s manufacturer. Because she had built her career on a no-holds-barred approach to sugar and fat (creating recipes like a cheeseburger patty sandwiched between two doughnuts and a Better than Sex cake made with cake mix, pudding mix, and heavy cream), she was roundly criticized for encouraging an unhealthy diet for others, hiding her illness and then trying to profit from it.

On Thursday, criticism of her statements about race mounted on Twitter — even spawning a sarcastic hashtag, #paulasbestdishes — and on Ms. Deen’s own Facebook page.

The lawsuit against her was filed in March 2012 by Lisa T. Jackson, the general manager of Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, a restaurant that Ms. Deen owned with her brother, Earl (Bubba) Hiers. Ms. Jackson, who is white, said that her father was Sicilian, with dark skin, and that she had suffered prejudice as a result.

In the deposition, Ms. Deen said that she had used a racial slur in the past, though not in the restaurant, and that she and her family did not tolerate prejudice. “Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is” or what gender a person is, she said. “It’s what’s in your heart and in your head that matters to us.”

She also stated that “most jokes” are about Jews, gay people, black people and “rednecks.”

“I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person,” she said.

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Call to Cooper of CNN Hints at a Shift for ‘Today’

NBC’s succession planning at both ends of its weekday schedule is causing no small amount of heartburn within the corridors of Rockefeller Center. It is playing out in public view, enveloping two of the most illustrious shows on television, “Today” and “The Tonight Show,” and two of the most successful men who have hosted those shows.

In Mr. Lauer’s case, the rumored successor on Wednesday was Anderson Cooper, the biggest star on CNN. Reports of a phone call from an NBC executive to size up Mr. Cooper’s interest in co-hosting “Today” renewed speculation about Mr. Lauer’s future on the show. NBC tried to quell it by saying, in a blunt statement, “We are not considering replacing Matt Lauer.”

The network’s plans for “The Tonight Show” are, by all accounts, further along. With Mr. Leno’s contract coming due in the fall of 2014, NBC has chosen Jimmy Fallon to be his successor. Though a deal is not yet done, Mr. Fallon is expected to take over “Tonight” that fall, if not earlier.

The plans for “Today” remain murky. Mr. Lauer, a star of the show for the better part of two decades, signed a contract last year — believed to pay him $25 million a year — that keeps him at NBC at least through the end of 2014. But the perception that Mr. Lauer forced his co-host Ann Curry from her job last year has badly damaged his reputation. Within the network, his current contract is widely considered to be his last, so there is clearly some succession planning to do.

The nature of the call to Mr. Cooper, however, raised the possibility that NBC might remove Mr. Lauer before his contract expires, or that Mr. Lauer might ask to be replaced. The inquiry, as reported by on Tuesday night, was about whether Mr. Cooper would consider joining “Today” later this year. His contract at CNN expires this fall, and other networks have expressed interest in hiring him.

Three people in the tight-knit television business, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the outreach was considered confidential, confirmed that the call was made this month. But executives at NBC, while tacitly confirming their interest in Mr. Cooper, strenuously denied that they saw him as a short-term fix to the problems that have plagued “Today,” which fell to second place in the ratings last year after 16 years at No. 1.

A news division executive, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, said in a statement, “NBC News has many exploratory talks with talent inside and outside of the network, but to read anything specific into that is presumptuous.”

The same person also said, “We are confident in our anchor team and are focused on producing great morning TV.”

Mr. Lauer still has millions of fans, just as Mr. Leno does at night. But that has not stopped high-ranking NBC executives from wondering aloud whether they should make a change at “Today” before Mr. Lauer’s contract expires. The new co-host of the 9 a.m. hour of “Today,” Willie Geist, and the moderator of “Meet the Press,” David Gregory, are mentioned most often as possible successors.

Ryan Seacrest, the “American Idol” host and a radio D.J., was discussed a year ago as a possible replacement, but his name comes up less frequently these days.

That the names are mentioned at all is a challenge for the network going forward. While NBC News executives say they have resisted the lighter fare and tabloid style of their rival, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the “Today” show itself risks becoming tabloid fodder.

In the wake of the report, reported that its sources had said that “Lauer is actually on board with the idea of Anderson replacing him,” and that he “planned to have a meeting with Anderson to sit down and discuss it.”

A spokeswoman for “Today” who represents Mr. Lauer declined to comment.

It is unclear who at NBC or its parent company, Comcast, made the call to Mr. Cooper. The news division does not currently have a president. Patricia Fili-Krushel, the chairwoman of NBCUniversal News Group, who oversees the news division, previously worked at Time Warner, the parent of CNN, for nearly a decade.

In some ways, Mr. Cooper would be a logical choice for “Today”: he is in his mid-40s and has demonstrated that he can juggle hard news interviews with the fun and games that morning television shows serve up.

His presence on “Today” might spur former viewers to give the show another chance. “Today” has fallen about 20 percent in the ratings since Ms. Curry was removed as a co-host next to Mr. Lauer last summer.

Co-hosting “Today” would, however, be a drastic lifestyle change for Mr. Cooper, who is “not a morning person,” one friend said, and is used to hosting a prime-time newscast. “Anderson Cooper 360,” his nightly hour on CNN, is shown live at 8 p.m. and replayed at 10 p.m.

While “360” is one of CNN’s highest-rated programs, it has struggled in the ratings: it currently attracts fewer than one million viewers at 8 p.m.

Furthermore, Mr. Cooper’s shot at a daytime talk show in the fall of 2011 has been viewed as a disappointment. It was renewed for a second season but canceled last October, only one month into that season.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Cooper at CNN declined to comment. When his CNN contract ends, another option besides “Today” is an expanded role on the weekly CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes.”

He currently contributes a few stories to the newsmagazine each year. His CNN contract prohibits him from doing more, and CBS executives would jump at the chance to change that.

Mr. Cooper may opt to stay at CNN, however, given that it provides him a daily presence on television.

“Today” would provide the same thing, and a much bigger audience. But Mr. Cooper may be leery of appearing to force out Mr. Lauer.

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Media Decoder Blog: The Breakfast Meeting: The ‘Today’ Show’s Popularity Woes, and Anxiety at Time Inc.

NBC’s “Today” has continued to lag behind ABC’s “Good Morning America” for 10 months now, a ratings slump that started just one week after its co-host, Matt Lauer, signed a contract with NBC said to be worth $25 million a year, the highest compensation ever on a morning show, Brian Stelter reports. Some “Today” staffers cite a lack of audience connection to Mr. Lauer as the root of the problem. Mr. Lauer’s popularity plummeted when his co-host, Ann Curry, was forced out last summer. Mr. Lauer, 55, started a belated image campaign this week, publicly stating that he thought his bosses had botched Ms. Curry’s departure, but it may be too late.  Alex Wallace, the NBC News executive in charge of “Today,” said NBC wants Mr. Lauer to be host for “years to come.”  The network has denied suggestions that it may replace him with a younger host like Willie Geist, 37, or David Gregory, 42.

At a lavish party for Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg last week, some Time Inc. employees seemed rattled about the publishing company’s coming separation from Time Warner, Christine Haughney writes. Parties like this one, held at Time Warner’s headquarters, may become a thing of the past for Time Inc. as it confronts its steep financial challenges. As a stand-alone entity, the magazine publisher will face $500 million to $1 billion in debt — unlike News Corporation’s publishing arm, which will be debt-free when it separates from its parent company this year — and Time Inc.’s circulation and advertising revenue have suffered sharp declines in recent years. The company’s executives hope their newfound freedom lets them use profits to transition to a digital age rather than paying them back to a parent company.

Some good news for Spain is finally enjoying media attention, Raphael Minder reports. Blogs like Bright Spain and newspapers like Buenas Noticias (Good News) offer an alternative to the relentless pessimism about the country’s economic prospects. Buenas Noticias, which is backed by Coca-Cola and Pepsico, ignored Spain’s 26 percent unemployment rate to publish articles about companies that are recruiting workers in Spain, including Renault, McDonald’s and Telefónica, which is offering 200 internships (Telefónica also plans to lay off 5,600 workers, which the article did not mention).

The approaching end of the television season means it’s time for shows to be renewed or canceled, and leads Mike Hale to wonder: what will become of the ABC Family comedy “Bunheads”? ABC has not yet announced if it will be canceled, and the show, about life and dance in the California hills, has lost about 40 percent of its audience over the course of its season. It would be a shame to give up on a show that, beyond being charming and funny, is unlike anything else on television at the moment, Mr. Hale writes.

Joe Chetrit, a secretive property mogul in New York, could come into the spotlight on Friday with the closing of his biggest deal: the $1.1. billion purchase of the Sony Building on Madison Avenue, Charles V. Bagli writes. Mr. Chetrit outmaneuvered about 20 other bidders to secure the deal and plans to convert the building, which has served as the headquarters for ATT and Sony, into a mix of luxury condominiums, a hotel and high-end retail shops. Many experts say the deal is very risky because Sony plans to remain in the building for three years, after which it will take two years and $500 million to renovate the building.  Interest rates could soar and the condo market could dry up before the building is ready in 2019.

NBC’s “Smash,” an ambitious drama about creating a Broadway production, essentially ended on Wednesday when the network announced that the show would be moved to Saturday for the remainder of its second season, Bill Carter reports. The show’s ratings have been abysmal, and the move, set to take place on April 6, basically means the show will die in obscurity. NBC said that the Tuesday slot previously held by “Smash” would be filled by the new reality dating show, “Ready for Love.”

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Media Decoder Blog: Return of Robin Roberts Brings Higher Ratings to ‘Good Morning America’

“Good Morning America” had its best morning in the ratings in three months when Robin Roberts returned to the show on Wednesday after a medical leave of absence, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings.

About 6.1 million viewers tuned in for Ms. Roberts’ much-touted comeback, giving the show its biggest audience since the morning after the presidential election in November.

The second-place network morning show, NBC’s “Today,” had somewhere between 4.9 million and 5.0 million viewers. (ABC and NBC shared slightly different sets of Nielsen numbers with reporters.) For “G.M.A.,” the ratings on Wednesday represented a bump of about 12 percent from its recent averages. For “Today,” the ratings were about flat.

What both networks care more about is the 25- to 54-year-old demographic, because advertising rates can rise and fall depending on the “demo,” as they call it.

The two shows remained basically tied in that demographic, with “G.M.A.” reporting an advantage of just 36,000 viewers ages 25 to 54. “Today” was slightly ahead on Wednesday in a younger demographic, that of viewers ages 18 to 49. (The show’s main anchor, Matt Lauer, is on vacation this week.) The competition between “G.M.A.” and “Today” will be fierce for the next few months because the upfront advertising sales period starts in the spring.

Ms. Roberts, who is beloved by millions of “G.M.A.” viewers, left the show last August and underwent a bone marrow transplant in September to treat a rare blood disorder she contracted as a result of treatment for breast cancer in 2007.

She has described herself as eager to get back to work, and she was back on “G.M.A.” for a second day on Thursday. But concerns about her health persist, and both her doctors and her producers at ABC have said that her re-entry will take some time. To that end, she said on ABC’s “The View” on Thursday that the “G.M.A.” producer Tom Cibrowski had told her to “take tomorrow morning off.”

“It’s easing my way back in,” she said of her re-entry.

Though she won’t be on “G.M.A.” on Friday, Ms. Roberts does have an interview to tape with Michelle Obama. The interview will be televised next Tuesday.

Over the weekend Ms. Roberts will fly to Los Angeles, where she will appear on ABC’s coverage of the Academy Awards and co-host “G.M.A.” before dawn on Monday morning — a busy schedule for anyone, let alone a person still recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

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Media Decoder: NBC Moves to Shake Up ‘Today’ Leadership

Alexandra Wallace.NBC Universal Alexandra Wallace.

NBC is completing a plan to change the leadership at the “Today” show, the longtime first-place morning show that slid to second place this year during the controversial removal of Ann Curry.

Alexandra Wallace, a senior vice president of NBC News, will be the new executive in charge of all four hours of the highly profitable “Today,” according to people at the network who described the plan on condition of anonymity because it had not been announced. She and a producer yet to be selected will succeed Jim Bell, who has been in charge of the show since 2005. Mr. Bell led the campaign for Ms. Curry’s removal from the show earlier this year and received much of the blame for the damage done by the transition.

After being the No. 1 show for 16 consecutive years, “Today” lost to “Good Morning America” on ABC for a few weeks in April and May.

Ms. Curry — who had been on the job only a year — was replaced by Savannah Guthrie in June. Since then “Today” has lost to “G.M.A.” consistently (save for two weeks during the Summer Olympics) and the reputation of Ms. Guthrie’s co-host Matt Lauer has taken a beating, as many of Ms. Curry’s fans have blamed him for her dismissal.

Because of all the turbulence, the producer change is seen as inevitable in the halls of NBC News. But it is unclear when the changes at the top will take effect. Some people with knowledge of the plan, who said they could be fired if they were identified, cautioned that it was still subject to change.

A spokeswoman for NBC News declined to comment. NBC is part of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast.

According to NBC, Ms. Wallace will be the first woman ever put in charge of the “Today” show — a milestone for the media industry because “Today” invented the morning television format 60 years ago. “G.M.A.” has had a female executive producer on two occasions, and “Today” briefly had a female executive for morning programming, but for the most part men have run the network morning shows, which rise or fall mainly on their ability to get women to watch. Women make up about 65 percent of the “Today” audience and about 70 percent of the “G.M.A.” audience.

The changes are being overseen by Patricia Fili-Krushel, chairwoman of the newly created NBCUniversal News Group, which includes NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC, along with Steve Capus, news division chief.

Stephen B. Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, put Ms. Fili-Krushel in charge of the group in July, and since then she’s been exploring what to do with “Today,” the most valuable piece of NBC News real estate, according to people who have spoken with her.

Ms. Fili-Krushel declined an interview request on Monday. She is expected to pick a day-to-day producer of “Today” under Ms. Wallace and may direct other changes to the show as well.

A shake-up like this one has been rumored about for months — making “Today” an awkward place to work in the meantime. Mr. Bell, who took over “Today” in 2005 and kept it No. 1 until this year, has continued to run the show this fall while fending off rumors about his future there. He had a second job this year producing NBC Sports’ Summer Olympics coverage. Mr. Bell will become the full-time executive producer of NBCUniversal’s Olympics coverage, reporting to the chairman of NBC Sports Group, Mark Lazarus, a spokesman said.

The search for his replacement has been an open secret, even at NBC’s competitors.

“Résumés are flying,” said a senior executive at a competing network. Among those interviewed for the day-to-day job were Izzy Povich, a producer at MSNBC, and Amy Chiaro, a former “Today” show producer who now helps run “The Dr. Oz Show” in syndication. Ms. Povich declined to comment. Ms. Chiaro said in an e-mail that she had “no plans of leaving” “Dr. Oz.”

Ms. Wallace did not respond to a request for comment. She came to NBC in 2005 from CBS, where she was a senior producer of the morning show for that network.

At NBC she produced “Weekend Today” before moving to the evenings, first as an executive overseeing “NBC Nightly News,” then as its executive producer. Most recently she was the top deputy to Mr. Capus. In September he asked her to take over “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” the prime-time newsmagazine that was introduced last year and has struggled to build an audience. She could remain the producer of “Rock Center” while overseeing “Today.”

The new producers will be taking over a morning show that’s not accustomed to losing. But that’s where “Today” finds itself now, having suffered what one executive called a “slow fade” in the ratings that predated Ms. Curry and worsened while she was co-hosting with Mr. Lauer. Her tearful goodbye seemed to tip the scales, sending “Today” deep into second place.

Lately, though, there have been positive signs for “Today”: after losing for 10 consecutive weeks in the category that matters most to advertisers, viewers ages 25 to 54, the show beat “G.M.A.” by a few thousand viewers in the last week of October. “Today” still lost among total viewers, with 5.27 million, compared with 5.49 million for “G.M.A.” The ratings results were incomplete because of show pre-emptions and power failures across the Northeast caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Ms. Curry has not appeared on “Today” for more than a month. She is in charge of a new reporting unit that most recently contributed a story about Sandy’s destruction on Staten Island to “Rock Center.” The executive in charge of Ms. Curry’s unit is Ms. Wallace.

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NBC Expected to Pick Curry as ‘Today’ Co-Host

The network is expected to hold a news conference Monday morning to announce that Ann Curry will succeed Meredith Vieira as the co-host of “Today,” the sprawling morning show that Ms. Vieira and Matt Lauer have anchored for five years. Ms. Curry is likely to take Ms. Vieira’s seat in June, according to people with direct knowledge of the appointment who also described plans for the news conference.

NBC will reveal that Natalie Morales, a 9 a.m. anchor of “Today,” will replace Ms. Curry as the news anchor, and Savannah Guthrie, a White House correspondent and MSNBC anchor, will become the 9 a.m. anchor.

Ms. Vieira’s decision to leave was entirely her own, by all accounts.

Ms. Curry, who has been the news anchor on “Today” for 14 years, is well known and well liked by viewers. NBC executives and outsiders with experience in morning television see the shift as both logical for the show and to be expected by its big audience. But they agree that any change in the familiar cast of “Today” carries risk.

The changes at “Today” are occurring as there is unusual upheaval across the news landscape. Last week, Katie Couric, who left “Today” five years ago to become the evening news anchor at CBS, announced her intention to leave that program as her contract with the network ends next month. Early this week, CBS is poised to announce that Scott Pelley, a correspondent on “60 Minutes,” will succeed her. Another anchor, Erin Burnett of CNBC, announced plans last week to join CNN.

The changes at “Today” carry so much significance because the show is far and away the top profit maker in a network news business that is financially pressed on multiple fronts. “Something around $200 million a year in profit is a good estimate,” said one veteran executive associated with the show. The executive, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the changes at “Today” were not yet official.

No other news show approaches that profit figure. NBC has essentially turned “Today” into its morning fortress, expanding it to four hours, twice as long as its competitors.

Those competitors at ABC and CBS have made personnel changes in recent years, seeking a slice of “Today’s” bountiful profits should it lose ground. And they are watching this spring’s transition carefully. But to date “Today” has been the most impregnable show in television history, with a ratings winning streak that stretches 800 consecutive weeks.

Even a minor dip in the dominance of “Today” grabs outsize attention, as did last week’s news that ABC’s “Good Morning America” had cut “Today’s” usual lead of some 800,000 viewers to fewer than 600,000 for one week.

“Today” has maintained its pre-eminence through a skillful series of transitions from its established stars to new hosts. Now that is in new hands: Vieira-to-Curry is the first big talent transition for Comcast to manage since it took over NBC in January.

When Ms. Couric left five years ago, NBC went outside the “Today” cast and the news division’s staff to hire Ms. Vieira, a former CBS News correspondent who had become the host of ABC’s daytime talk hit, “The View.”

The move proved successful, though it struck some of the show’s regular viewers as an obvious slight to Ms. Curry, who had put in more than a decade and seemed to be the next co-host in waiting. Ms. Curry and her agent expressed unhappiness at the time, the veteran NBC executive said, and she had to be convinced that she was still held in high regard at the network.

She agreed to stay and set about to solidify her news profile on the show by making numerous trips to sites of breaking news, often to scenes of natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti last year, or other locations struck by tragedy, like Darfur, Pakistan, Syria and Kosovo.

“My dream has been to be a journalist of our time,” she told graduates at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., last year. “My aim is to reveal the truth about war, genocide, crimes against humanity and other human suffering.”

Tom Touchet, who was the executive producer of “Today” from 2002 to 2005, said of Ms. Curry, “She is as good and caring off-air as she appears to be on-air. That’s a rare, special quality.”

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