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  • 07.05.2021
The biggest scandals to ever plague The Today Show
showbiz
06.05.2021

The biggest scandals to ever plague The Today Show

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The Today Show or just Today, has been part of the TV landscape since 1952—so pretty much since the beginning of commercial television as we know it. A pioneer in non-prime-time television, Today has always been part hard news, part talk show, part cooking show, and part fluff. In nearly 70 years, the show's format has stayed much the same. The only thing that changes is the cast of broadcast journalists, who seem to all share the same headline reporting and headline-making skills. Here are some of the most controversial things to ever go down on the original morning show.

David Garroway vs. J. Fred Muggs
 
In 1952, NBC tapped David Garroway, the host of a variety show called Garroway at Large, to be the first Today anchor. A year later, producers paired him with co-anchor J. Fred Muggs, a trained chimpanzee that an NBC executive spotted in a coffee shop dipping his doughnut into a cup of joe. 
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Today's ratings instantly improved with the addition of Muggs, but Garroway and the chimpanzee had a hot-and-cold relationship. In his book, The Today Show: An Inside Look at 25 Tumultuous Years (via The New York Times) writer Robert Metz said that it was "an open secret" behind the scenes "that the two were on-again, off-again pals." When Garroway would get mad at his scene-stealing co-star, he'd reportedly do things like slam the animal's hands in a drawer or drug his orange juice to make him behave badly. (Newsreader Jack Fleming got his revenge another way. He found sharing the air with a primate so undignified that he quit the show.) 

When Muggs' contract was up in 1957, NBC opted to let it lapse. A press release said the chimpanzee was leaving to "expand his personal horizons," but insiders say it was because Garroway wanted him gone for good.

The Bryant Gumbel memo
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In late 1988, Today Executive Producer Marty Ryan asked anchor Bryant Gumbel to write up an assessment of what he thought worked and didn't work about the show. That's some standard workplace stuff, except that Gumbel's four-page memo leaked to the media in February 1989. His thoughts on his show and his coworkers—which his coworkers got to read—were astute, darkly funny, and just plain mean. 

Gumbel criticized Willard Scott, the jovial weatherman and the guy who gave shout-outs to viewers on their 100th birthdays, as a guy who "holds the show hostage to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays, and bad taste." He recommended Scott be banned from the show's hard news-packed first hour, which Gumbel predicted Scott would find upsetting–a feeling that didn't matter because Gumbel said Scott "can't leave this job and couldn't get a better one." 

Consumer reporter David Horowitz was, to Gumbel, "a walking cliché," and Gumbel said film critic Gene Shalit's celebrity interviews "aren't very good." 
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Except for some backstage personnel changes, things eventually blew over at Today, at least as far as Gumbel was concerned. He stayed with the show until 1997, nearly a decade after he wrote that catty memo.

Jane Pauley was basically forced off the show

Since 1976, Jane Pauley had served as the co-anchor of Today, consistently leading the show to the top of the ratings. In 1989, however, she abruptly quit with two years left on her contract. What happened? 
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She reportedly saw the writing on the wall and opted to quit instead of get fired. "I had no idea what I wanted to do, but choosing to go was surely better than being told to go," Pauley told Life. 

In 1989, NBC executives had added newsreader Deborah Norville to Today. A former anchor on NBC News at Sunrise, Norville didn't sit behind a desk, the Today custom up to that point. Instead, she appeared right next to Pauley and Gumbel as an equal. Speculation and rumor held that Pauley, in her late thirties at the time, was about to get pushed aside for the younger, bubblier, and blonder Norville. (One bit of evidence: NBC paid Norville $1 million a year; Pauley got $1.2 million.)

When Pauley quit, she was replaced by Norville, but fearing another network could poach her for their own morning show, NBC tried to keep Pauley happy and in-house with a series of prime-time specials and a news magazine show called Real Life.
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The brief and awkward Norville tenure

The revolving door of Today hosts in the early '90s is one of NBC's most famous personnel debacles. Today experienced some growing pains after Norville controversially replaced Pauley. Well, not so much growing pains as shrinking pains—in the first year or so of the Norville era, Today never finished first in the morning news show weekly ratings. 

Viewers didn't like Norville, or they didn't like her as much as Pauley, or they didn't like how NBC handled the situation, all of which showed up as a ratings drop. In the spring of 1991, while Norville was on maternity leave, NBC told her not to come back. 
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Her replacement: substitute anchor Katie Couric.

Tom Cruise vs. Matt Lauer

In 2005, actress Brooke Shields revealed in her memoir, Down Came the Rain, that she struggled with postpartum depression after the 2003 birth of her daughter, and that antidepressants helped. Soon thereafter, actor Tom Cruise publicly tore into Shields, calling her "irresponsible" for promoting antidepressants. 
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"When someone says [a mood stabilizer] has helped them, it is to cope, it didn't cure anything," Cruise told Access Hollywood. "There is no science. There is nothing that can cure them whatsoever." Cruise advocated for "vitamins and exercise," which is in line with the teachings of the Church of Scientology, of which Cruise is a famous adherent.

A few weeks later, Cruise sat down for an interview with Matt Lauer on Today. The actor wanted to discuss War of the Worlds, while Lauer, an aggressive interviewer, pushed for Cruise to elaborate on his comments about Shields and postpartum depression. At first, Cruise was game. The actor called psychiatry "a pseudoscience," but remarked that he liked Shields. 

Lauer asked, "If she said that this particular thing helped her feel better, whether it was the antidepressant or going to a counselor or psychiatrist, isn't that enough?" 
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Cruise countered with an argument about all the kids out there unknowingly forced by their parents to take Adderall and Ritalin. Lauer pointed out that Shields hadn't taken antidepressants against her will, to which Cruise professed to know the history of psychiatry better than Lauer and called the Today host "glib." 

Not exactly a light and fluffy movie promo interview.

Kris Jenner was better TV than 9/11
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On Sept. 11, 2012—the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks—President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama led a national moment of silence. It began at 8:46 a.m., which was the moment the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. That happened to fall during the morning news shows' time slots, and ABC's Good Morning America and CBS' This Morning both aired the ceremony. Today didn't. 

During the national moment of silence, Today's Savannah Guthrie was interviewing Keeping Up with the Kardashians star Kris Jenner on topics such as exercise, breast implants, and Kanye West. NBC stations around the country aired the interview–only the network's New York affiliate cut away from the Jenner interview for a remembrance from Ground Zero. 

NBC said in a statement that it had no regrets because "The Today Show dedicated a considerable amount of time to September 11th coverage this morning throughout the entire show."
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The Trump tape got Billy Bush fired

Billy Bush, the entertainment journalist and omnipresent TV show host of the 2000s who isn't Ryan Seacrest, has now been closely linked to three American presidents. 

George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are his cousins, and in 2016, a tape leaked of Billy hanging out with Donald Trump while making a segment for Bush's show, Access Hollywood. The tape depicted Trump boasting to a laughing Bush about how he liked to grab women in a NSFW place and kiss them, which the then-candidate for president dismissed as "locker room banter." 
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Trump went on to win the 2016 presidential election while Billy was suspended from his job as a Today co-host and then straight-up fired. Seven months later, Billy broke his silence to sort-of apologize. "Anyone who is participating in that moment is going to get it," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "In that way, I deserved it. Judgment day arrived all of a sudden and very quickly, and it is my own personal hell that judgment day was solely based upon a bad moment 12 years ago and not the complete evolution of the man. But that's my own private cross to bear and my own issue to work through. It does not in any way excuse the moment on that tape and the way people reacted because I completely understand it."

Tamron Hall allegedly quit because of Megyn Kelly

Tamron Hall joined the NBC News family in 2007, where she wrote and delivered news for cable and broadcast shows such as Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The Big Picture, NewsNation with Tamron Hall, and in 2014, Today's Take, the 9 a.m. hour of Today. That made her the first African-American woman to anchor Today, and she stayed on when NBC retooled Today's Take in 2016 with the addition of former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. When he was fired, long-time Today contributor Al Roker took his place. 
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But in February 2017, NBC decided to shake up the nine o'clock hour again and bring in Fox News star Megyn Kelly to helm the time slot. Rumor had it that rather than be summarily and publicly forced out of her job, Hall quit Today, effective almost immediately. She didn't just walk away from Today—she left the entirety of NBC. 

"The last 10 years have been beyond anything I could have imagined, and I'm grateful," Hall said in a statement. "I'm also very excited about the next chapter. To all my great colleagues, I will miss you and I will be rooting for you."

The Lauer scandal
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After taking over for the departing Gumbel in 1997, Lauer dominated morning television until 2017, at which point NBC paid him an astounding $20 million annual salary. His career came to an abrupt halt in November 2017, when an NBC internal investigation found that as many as eight women had been allegedly victimized by Lauer and his reportedly creepy and inappropriate workplace behavior. 

Lauer allegedly did everything from exposing himself to sending filthy notes to committing assault. After being immediately fired, but before completely dropping out of the public eye, the disgraced TV host issued a statement in which he apologized for some of his actions but denied others. "There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions," Lauer said. "To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC. He added, "Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly."


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