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
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
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
He admits Today may lose a few viewers, but says that its rivals will be
battling it out for second place.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY
Tel: (212) 664- 4343
Executive in charge: Jeff Zucker
Executive producer: Michael Bass
Senior producer: Kim Gerbasi
Supervising producer: Diane Demartino
Entertainment booker: Kevin Beisler.