September 21, 2021

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.”

Article source:

Media Decoder Blog: Soledad O’Brien to Take on New Role at CNN

4:45 p.m. | Updated Soledad O’Brien will leave CNN’s morning show in the spring, but she won’t be leaving the cable news channel altogether.

Ms. O’Brien, who is well-known for CNN documentaries like “Black in America,” said Thursday that she would form a production company and continue to supply documentaries to CNN on a nonexclusive basis. She’ll also make them for other television channels and for the Web.

“There’s so many great stories to tell,” said Ms. O’Brien, who is preparing two new installments of the “Black in America” franchise for CNN.

The deal is an unusual one for CNN. In effect, Ms. O’Brien will go from being an anchor to an outside producer. She may have had little choice in the matter: the new head of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker, decided even before he started the job in January that he wanted to replace Ms. O’Brien’s morning show, “Starting Point,” with a brand new one.

The hosts of the new, as-yet-untitled show have not been named, but Mr. Zucker hired Chris Cuomo from ABC last month with the intention of pairing him with Erin Burnett, who presently hosts the 7 p.m. hour on CNN.

After Mr. Zucker took over, “we had conversations in general about my role at CNN,” Ms. O’Brien said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “What we ended up with was, they wanted to partner with me, and I wanted to partner with them.”

So she will be a free agent, hosting documentaries for CNN part-time, but able to take hosting and reporting jobs elsewhere at the same time. She could go the syndication route, as Katie Couric has. On Thursday, Ms. O’Brien appeared on “The Wendy Williams Show,” a syndicated daytime talk show.

However, “at this moment, I really want to work on projects,” she said.

Her new production company, called the Starfish Media Group, will distribute those projects, as well as past CNN documentaries like “Gary and Tony Have a Baby,” “Unwelcome: the Muslims Next Door” and “Don’t Fail Me: Education in America.” That means they could show up on other channels in the future.

“We can take some of the discussions around these issues and carry them to new audiences,” Ms. O’Brien said. She has a number of ideas for new documentaries, some of which “wouldn’t necessarily be right for CNN,” she said, like ones about sports.

Citing another example, she said she had been pitching a “Poverty in America” documentary “for a long time.” Under the terms of the new agreement, she could take the idea to another channel if CNN passed on it.

Ms. O’Brien, who is black and a Latina (her mother is Afro-Cuban, her father is Australian and of Irish descent), stood out on cable news both culturally and creatively. She joined CNN in 2003 from NBC, where she was a co-host of “Weekend Today.”

At CNN she co-hosted an earlier iteration of the channel’s morning show for four years, then delved into documentary-making. “Black in America” was her first, and it spawned a whole series of others about race and other issues.

Ms. O’Brien’s identity is so wrapped up in these documentaries that it was a surprise to some people when she was given the morning anchor job again in January 2012. Her morning show was, in retrospect, probably destined to fail; it was scarcely promoted by CNN and was the subject of internal feuding over its editorial sensibility.

“Under the previous regime, we did not have a ton of support,” Ms. O’Brien said Thursday. While she and her colleagues “tried to get a sense of what people wanted” — she meant people up the corporate ladder at CNN — “it was never very clear.”

Referring to Mr. Zucker, she added, “One of the great things about Jeff coming into CNN is that he has a very clear vision of what he wants.”

Ever since Mr. Zucker’s plans for the new morning show emerged last month, fans of Ms. O’Brien’s have complained that she wasn’t part of that vision. But she wasn’t critical of CNN on Thursday. Asked whether she had any concerns about diversity, or the lack of it, at CNN, she said, “Diversity is never one person. Diversity is about what a company believes.”

Despite low ratings — “Starting Point” had just 234,000 viewers on a typical day last year, CNN’s smallest audience in the mornings in a decade — Ms. O’Brien said she was proud of the show, and in particular its reputation for tough interviews. “We became relevant in an important election,” she said.

She said she would not miss the 2 a.m. wake-up calls that “Starting Point” necessitated.

“To do the thing that you’re really passionate about,” she said, “is a very nice luxury, and that’s what I am getting to do now.”

Mr. Zucker said in a statement, “We greatly value Soledad’s experience, and her first-rate storytelling will continue to be an asset to CNN. Documentaries and long-form story telling are important to our brand and we’re anticipating more of what we’ve come to expect from her — riveting content.”

The decision to have her supply documentaries makes sense because CNN has been moving from an in-house production model to an outside acquisition model. The channel is working with several outside production companies on weekend programming, and it is also buying the rights to documentary films.

CNN said that Ms. O’Brien would host at least one documentary this year, and three next year.

Article source:

Media Decoder: Robin Roberts Returns to ‘Good Morning America’

Robin Roberts waved to fans outside the Good Morning America studio on her first day back at work following a bone marrow transplant.Michael Appleton for The New York Times Robin Roberts waved to fans outside the Good Morning America studio on her first day back at work following a bone marrow transplant.

6:00 p.m. | Updated “Now,” Robin Roberts said to the staff of her top-rated morning show, “Good Morning America,” right after it wrapped on Wednesday, “we can resume regular programming.”

Ms. Roberts had just made a television comeback unlike any other, as a host of the program for the first time since she was forced to leave it in August to fight a life-threatening illness. The return, promoted two weeks ahead of time by ABC, was celebrated by fans, tens of thousands of whom sent well-wishes on social networking sites. Many of them watch the program specifically for Ms. Roberts, who is, according to industry research, the most-liked host on any American morning news program by a wide margin.

On Wednesday it was obvious why. She beamed with pride and gratitude as she returned to the broadcast, defying the expectations of some in the television industry who had predicted she would be unwilling or unable to anchor again.

The broadcast gave ABC fresh optimism that “Good Morning America,” with Ms. Roberts, 52, back in her chair, can continue to beat NBC’s “Today,” which last year was dislodged from the top spot in the morning ratings after 16 straight years.

Most of all it closed a chapter in a story that started almost exactly one year ago, when Ms. Roberts felt exhausted while covering the 2012 Academy Awards in Los Angeles for ABC. Subsequent tests by her doctors found that she had myelodysplastic syndromes, known as M.D.S., a rare and debilitating blood disorder, most likely resulting from her treatment for breast cancer five years earlier.

After taking a leave in August she underwent a bone-marrow transplant in September. Back then Ms. Roberts told viewers she’d return to “Good Morning America” as soon as she could. But no one knew for sure how long she would be away, if she survived at all. Nor could anyone at ABC think of any precedents for a leave like hers. “There was no handbook for this, but I’m very pleased with how we handled it,” Ms. Roberts said in an interview after Wednesday’s broadcast.

The closest things to precedents were weeks-long maternity leaves, and the one thing ABC was determined not to repeat: a departure like that of Peter Jennings, the longtime “World News Tonight” anchor who abruptly came onto his newscast one day in April 2005, announced he had lung cancer, said, “I will continue to do the broadcast,” and never came back.

Jennings died four months after making the announcement, and the circumstances were traumatic for viewers as well as for ABC staff members. For that reason — as well as for the more obvious ones involving ratings and reputation — ABC decided to make Ms. Roberts a part of the show even while she was in the hospital recuperating from the transplant.

George Stephanopoulos and the other co-hosts mentioned her by name at least once every half-hour, and they shared her Twitter messages and photos on TV regularly. On Wednesday everyone involved emphasized that she was returning now only because her doctors say she is ready.

Nonetheless morning TV is big business, so there were grumblings that ABC had exploited her condition for ratings gains. Last July, two weeks after NBC removed Ann Curry from “Today,”spurring a big lift in the ratings for “Good Morning America,” the “Today” executive producer Jim Bell wrote in an e-mail to senior producers that the competition was “using Robin’s illness and the accompanying public interest in her health as a new weapon in its arsenal.”

More recently some media critics have censured the show for overcovering Ms. Roberts’s impending return. But if online chatter is any indication, that sentiment wasn’t widely shared by the viewers who have been rooting for Ms. Roberts and for her television family, which remained firmly No. 1 among total viewers while she was away. But among the 25- to 54-year-old viewers that help the shows make money, “Good Morning America” stayed only slightly ahead of “Today,” and within ABC, there is a quiet hope that Ms. Roberts’ return will propel the program forward.

Ben Sherwood, the president of ABC News, ducked questions about the ratings on Wednesday but said, “This experience has reminded us to take nothing for granted, and, like Robin herself, in many ways we feel like we’re just getting started.”

He also said, “After 173 very long days, it’s beautiful to get back to business as usual with our full team and two more wonderful regulars.” By “regulars” he meant Elizabeth Vargas and Amy Robach, who took turns filling in while Ms. Roberts was away. They will continue to show up frequently on the program, he said, in part because Ms. Roberts is not yet back at full strength. She’ll re-emerge gradually, for a few days a week at first, depending on how she and how her doctors feel about her progress. At least one thing is certain: she will be back in Los Angeles to cover the Academy Awards this weekend.

Mr. Sherwood, when asked if Ms. Roberts would ever return to a five-day-a-week schedule, observed that she’s an athlete first and foremost (a star college basketball player and former ESPN sportscaster) who “wants to play every day.” He added, “I think nothing would make Robin happier than getting back to five days a week.”

Even the most cynical “Good Morning” producers — who requested anonymity because they were not authorized by the network to speak — pointed out that Ms. Roberts’s story could have ended very differently. “It doesn’t matter about ratings” on Wednesday, one such producer said in between emotional expletives. “She is alive!”

Interviewed by People magazine, which put her on its cover last week, Ms. Roberts said she was warned that “at one point I would feel like dying.” Shortly after the transplant, that came true, she said: “I was in a pain I had never experienced before, physically and mentally. I was in a comalike state. I truly felt like I was slipping away. Then I kept hearing, ‘Robin! Robin!’ ” The voice belonged to a nurse, who was “pleading for me to stay here,” Ms. Roberts said. “And thankfully I did. I came back.”

Ms. Roberts said she didn’t feel especially tired after her two-hour hosting blitz on Wednesday. She did notice some problems with her vision, however, since she had not been under the bright studio lights for such an extended period since August.

Her return was even cause for a temporary cessation of hostilities between “Today” and “Good Morning America.” “Today” sent a gift basket to the ABC studio and welcomed Ms. Roberts back during its 8 a.m. hour.

Don Nash, who succeeded Mr. Bell as executive producer of “Today” two months ago, said in an e-mail on Tuesday night, “All of us at ‘Today’ wish her continued good health and years of hitting the 3 a.m. snooze button!”

Article source:

Media Decoder: MSNBC’s Chris Licht to Join CBS News

11:52 a.m. | Updated | Chris Licht, the behind-the-scenes member of the “Morning Joe” band, is leaving MSNBC and becoming the vice president of programming at CBS News.

Mr. Licht’s hiring was announced by CBS News on Thursday morning. At CBS, he will try to inject new energy into the network’s long-troubled morning show, “The Early Show,” and develop other programs and projects. Though the morning show will be his “first focus,” Mr. Licht said in an interview, “I will be doing whatever I can to help.”

Mr. Licht is part of a reboot by CBS News — the third-place network news division — at a time when Katie Couric is leaving and Scott Pelley, a “60 Minutes” correspondent, is replacing her on the “CBS Evening News.” Along with a new anchor, the news division has a new chairman, a new president, new bosses on several of its programs, and a plan to pump up its hard news credentials.

A departure from MSNBC by Mr. Licht has been the subject of much speculation in the television news business for several weeks. He was a creator and is the executive producer of “Morning Joe,” the free-wheeling talk show that is envied by competitors for its A-list bookings and for the chemistry between Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and the regulars that join them on their set at Rockefeller Center.

On “Morning Joe,” Mr. Licht often pops up on camera in the control room to read viewer e-mails and joke with Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski. Inseparable is an apt word to describe the trio.

Departing MSNBC, Mr. Licht said, was “unequivocally the hardest decision I’ve ever made.” But he has harbored an interest for years in having a broader executive role at a network, and NBC, the leading network news division, did not need the help the way CBS does.

“That’s whats exciting about this job,” he said. “It’s not ‘Hey, come protect the status quo.’ It’s ‘Hey, come here and let’s try new things.’ And you have the freedom to do that.”

David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, said in an interview that Mr. Licht would start at CBS on June 6.

“Whats interesting about what Chris has accomplished in recent years is that it’s different,” Mr. Rhodes said, referring to “Morning Joe.” “There’s been too much energy spent in all of TV basically trying to mimic the 1995 ‘Today’ show. I think we can do something different. I think people want something different.”

Does that mean Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski will someday join Mr. Licht at CBS? As soon as Mr. Licht started having job interviews, people started asking the question — even in the middle of the interviews. “Every place I interviewed, there was a desire expressed — ‘Boy, we would sure love to have Joe and Mika,’ ” Mr. Licht said. Two weeks ago the Web site Mediaite said that CBS was trying to recruit the hosts along with Mr. Licht.

“It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t surprise me that those rumors started, because people generally know how tight we are,” Mr. Licht said.

Mr. Rhodes stated flatly: “Chris is being hired for Chris.”

Asked whether he would want to hire Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski, Mr. Rhodes said, “Look, Joe and Mika are under contract at NBC. From what I understand, it’s a contract that has a while left to run. Joe and Mika are great talent, and if they were available, we would obviously be interested in talking to them. And that goes for a number of people. But from what I understand right now they remain under contract.”

The end date of the contracts is unknown. Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski recently started working with the Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, of William Morris Endeavor, according to two people with knowledge of the relationship. Asked to confirm the relationship last week, Mr. Emanuel wrote in an e-mail message, “No commitment,” and declined to elaborate.

Mr. Licht said of the possibility of the pair joining CBS, “Look, when their contracts are up, if that’s the right move for them, that would be fantastic.” He continued, “This was not, ‘Hey, go to CBS so we can come too.’”

Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, said Thursday that Alex Korson would replace Mr. Licht as the executive producer of “Morning Joe.” He also named Ann Edelberg the senior supervising producer. “Alex and Ann have been driving forces for the show’s success and I’m confident that they will continue to make ‘Morning Joe’ the most talked about morning news program,” Mr. Griffin wrote in an internal memorandum.

Mr. Griffin added, “I also want to take this opportunity to thank Chris Licht for his leadership. Chris has had an impressive career at MSNBC – as the executive producer of both ‘Scarborough Country’ and ‘Morning Joe.’ I wish him good luck with his new role at CBS.”

Article source: