I’ve been watching The Today Show on NBC since it debuted in 1952 with Dave Garroway as host. It was the first national morning TV news show, was two hours long, and featured a first half hour, at least, of hard news followed by interviews, reports, and a variety of interesting features. It had many firsts. My most memorable was the morning in the early Fifties it showed the first live television picture from the West Coast: A grainy, black and white image of a palm tree, gently waving, as if to prove it was a live shot. “This is exactly as it looks in Los Angeles at this very moment,” Garroway proudly announced. It was amazing.
The Today Show has had many such firsts over the years, and a crew of distinguished alumni walking in the footsteps of Dave Garroway (John Chancellor, Hugh Downs, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, et al) in mostly successful fashion. There has been a notable shift from news people and journalists to “personalities” in recent years, but they’re competent people, and it works. With the advent of satellite coverage we can see what’s happening now, all around the world, live and in HD color.
There are a few downsides, however. Maybe it’s the changing times, interests, viewer attention spans, educations – whatever; but The Today Show has been dumbed down to more of a glossy, celebrity, sensational, supermarket tabloid. I know, we have Morning Joe on NBC’s sister station, MSNBC, for intelligent discussion of major issues, with a team of people who both know what they’re talking about, and who give others, on both sides of the issue, the chance to speak their piece also.
But – The Today Show could make a few adjustments to recapture a share of its audience (people like me) that gets bored or annoyed with its shanigans , and who switch off to the competing morning shows on ABC and CBS. Here are my suggestions:
1. Special Editions: Scrub them. I don’t need multi-hour coverage of any one subject. You can feature it, check back on it from time to time, but don’t bury us in background trivia and over-depth coverage. Keep the mix. Show me a bit of everything. Don’t tell me more about any one subject than I need to know.
2. Screen Crawls: I find these occasionally interesting and frequently distracting. There are too many of them and the content is often unimportant. How about saving those for major headline events and not the break-up of another celebrity relationship.
3. Captions: There are now up to four lines on the screen at any one time. The Today Show logo, the screen crawl, and identifying tags as to subject, who is speaking, and/or where they are. Those four lines take up nearly 20% of my screen. Keep it to a maximum of two lines, total.
4. Interviews: Generally, they’re very good – but – the timing could be better managed. I appreciate how difficult this is, but if it’s explained to the subject in advance, and updated by an off camera timekeeper or clock, there will be less need to say, “I have 30 seconds left…” and then take up 20 of those seconds asking the question. It comes across as rude. It’s especially distressing when someone is discussing a subject of interest and they’re rushed to a quick conclusion, only to be followed by a laxative commercial or two, and then a new report on some movie star’s recent troubles with the law.
5. Hard News: Keep the first 30 minutes to hard news and a brief weather update. Lose the guy with the spike through his head, the boy scout who was lost and stayed out overnight (aren’t they supposed to do that?), and the lady whose mother was run over by a steamroller yesterday and is bravely appearing to tell us what a lovely lady Mom was. I’d like a morning update on the war(s), the economy, the political scene, and such other national and international events and disasters as warrant a headline. Keep the Happy Talk to a bare minimum in the first half hour.
6. And finally, a Pet Peeve: When did everything become a tease? Can’t you just give us the headline and fill in the story after the commercial? The tease is way overdone and becomes truly annoying. I’m waiting for the day when the anchor looks grimly into the camera and says: “What nation just launched a nuclear missile at the United States, and where will it hit and when? The answer: Straight ahead, after these messages and the weather.”
The Today Show is a television classic. Keep up the good work, Today staff. I’m still a regular, if intermittent, viewer, and would just like to suggest: Crank it up a notch. Your public is brighter than you think we are.