MEDIA: Can’t get to Today? Look Later - An offshoot of the popular but hard-to-pitch NBC morning show Today is coming to town. Claire Aktinson discovers the opportunities that lie ahead for pros

Katie Couric and Matt Lauer are the face of breakfast television for six million Americans. As the co-anchors of NBC’s Today show, they interview a constant round of celebrities, authors and experts from a studio in New York’s Rockefeller Plaza. That makes Today a PR dream, but getting on the show is even tougher than getting an exclusive with Talk editor Tina Brown. That may be about to change with the addition of Later Today, a Monday-to-Friday magazine show starting in just a few weeks.

Katie Couric and Matt Lauer are the face of breakfast television for six million Americans. As the co-anchors of NBC’s Today show, they interview a constant round of celebrities, authors and experts from a studio in New York’s Rockefeller Plaza. That makes Today a PR dream, but getting on the show is even tougher than getting an exclusive with Talk editor Tina Brown. That may be about to change with the addition of Later Today, a Monday-to-Friday magazine show starting in just a few weeks.

Katie Couric and Matt Lauer are the face of breakfast television

for six million Americans. As the co-anchors of NBC’s Today show, they

interview a constant round of celebrities, authors and experts from a

studio in New York’s Rockefeller Plaza. That makes Today a PR dream, but

getting on the show is even tougher than getting an exclusive with Talk

editor Tina Brown. That may be about to change with the addition of

Later Today, a Monday-to-Friday magazine show starting in just a few

weeks.



The huge popularity of Today has forced NBC to look at ways of extending

that franchise. Today has been the top morning show for the past three

years, but executives believe it is about to enter a much more

competitive environment.



Executive producer Jeff Zucker says that come autumn, the 7 to 9am slot

will be the biggest battle for viewers on the network rather than the

traditional hot primetime slot, 7 to 9 pm.



Nearest rival Good Morning America on ABC has changed its format on

numerous occasions. But its stop-gap choice of co-anchors Diane Sawyer

and Charlie Gibson has helped to boost numbers. CBS is also preparing a

new show for front man Bryant Gumbel, but Zucker is not phased by all

this activity.



He admits Today may lose a few viewers, but says that its rivals will be

battling it out for second place.



Battling Martha



The idea for Later Today came about earlier this year, prompting the

network to drop the talk show Leeza in favor of the new magazine

show.



Later Today will run opposite Martha Stewart Living on CBS and Live with

Regis and Kathie Lee on ABC.



Though executives don’t want to be too specific about the content

because they are still a few weeks away from launch, it is fair to say

it will be female-oriented with information and consumer stories and a

celebrity/expert guest.



Later Today will not carry news bulletins, but it will feature newsy

items. Zucker claims that a morning female audience is not interested in

news. ’If it turns out they are, we’ll give it to them,’ he adds.



There are no specific details about how and when the content of each

day’s Later Today will be decided. But it is likely that it will follow

a similar pattern as Today, which is outlined immediately after the

show’s close at 9am.



The show will be hosted by three women: Jodi Applegate, who has been

working on Weekend Today and doing stints on MSNBC; Florence Henderson,

one of the original Today anchors when the show first launched in the

’50s and Asha Blake, joining from LA affiliate KNBC.



The Today show, which features a revolving roster of advice-givers, has

been a tough pitch, so public relations executives are relishing the

arrival of Later Today.



Pitching primer



Paul Lutheringer, executive director of marketing communications at

Hearst magazines, says the arrival of the new show gives everyone a

better chance of getting to Zucker. ’Today is very difficult - we are

all interested in getting a slot for our editors. This new show will

give us further opportunity to get coverage for our people. It’s going

to be a great show.’



Zucker says pitches should be addressed initially to Michael Bass, who

is moving from Today to become executive producer of Later Today. Bass,

currently a senior broadcast producer, is an NBC News veteran who

started his career as a writer for ABC Sports. He will have his hands

full both at work and at home given that his wife is expecting their

second child. ’He is giving birth to two children this summer,’ jokes

Later Today host Applegate. ’One is a show.’



The Later Today staff can be contacted on a separate phone number,

though no fax details are being given out. It might also take some time

before e-mails are returned, but once more staff members have been

recruited and the show is up and running, there will be a greater chance

of making contact.



The show makes its morning debut on September 7 at 9am and will use

Today’s highly successful outdoor set, which draws huge crowds to the

Rockefeller Center. The show will have its own studio with a coffee-shop

feel, and will make full use of the audience.



Zucker says he can’t be specific about what to pitch, but NBC press

information states the show will cover news, entertainment and

issue-related segments from medical advice, parenting and fashion to

health, financial matters, cooking and fitness. Zucker says: ’Pitch

stories that are of interest to women. Michael Bass will be looking for

all types of people.’



Zucker, only 35 years old, has been executive producer of Today since

January 1992 and is credited with giving it a more newsy feel. The show

has had its fair share of scoops, including an interview with Hillary

Clinton following the Monica Lewinsky scandal.



Program partnership



From September, Zucker will be shuttling between Today and Later Today

to ensure that the two shows work in tandem. ’The program will report to

me and I’m there to make sure that 7 to 10 doesn’t compete with itself,’

explains Zucker. ’I will ensure that Later Today doesn’t do anything

that hurts Today and vice versa.’



Host Baker says the women presenters will be more opinionated than the

Today show format permits.



Critics have suggested that this strategy is more than a little

reminiscent of The View, the discussion show featuring Barbara Walters

and friends exchanging opinions on a range of issues.



With competition for the best guests from rival breakfast shows and late

morning shows, Zucker says he is not expecting major bookings from the

outset. ’We anticipate that people will come to this program over time,’

says Zucker. ’We are not going to be arrogant about it and say, ’You

have to do the Today show and then we want you to stay 9 to 10 am.’



Perhaps that’s an indication that it might be a little easier for public

relations executives to get their clients on board.



CONTACT LIST



Later Today



30 Rockefeller Plaza



New York, NY



10112



Tel: (212) 664- 4343



e-mail: firstname.lastname@nbc.com



Executive in charge: Jeff Zucker



Executive producer: Michael Bass



Senior producer: Kim Gerbasi



Supervising producer: Diane Demartino



Entertainment booker: Kevin Beisler.



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