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Today

TODAY.


In 1952, no network television programming was scheduled earlier than 10:00 a.m. (EST). NBC president Sylvester "Pat" Weaver created Today with the idea that people might watch TV early in the morning before going to work and sending their children off to school. The two-hour show, running from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. (EST), was designed to unfold in small modular segments, with the expectation that few viewers would watch from beginning to end. News, interviews, feature stories, and weather were combined in an informal style by friendly hosts. Today went on the air on 14 January 1952 and has remained there with relatively minor changes ever since. It was not until 1954 that another network, CBS, scheduled a program, The Morning Show, in the same time slot, and it was not until the 1970s, when Good Morning, America was introduced on ABC, that any program challenged the ratings dominance of Today. Fifty years after the beginning of Today, all early morning network shows were essentially copies of it. Today replaced the daily newspaper as a first source of information for millions of Americans at the start of each day, providing news and weather reports as well as discussions of books, trends, and other cultural and domestic topics.

From 1952 to 1961, the Today team included Dave Garroway, Betsy Palmer, Jack Lescoulie, Frank Blair, and for a few years of comic relief, a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs. In 1961, the news department at NBC took over production of the show, and the lead host position went successively to John Chancellor (19611962), Hugh Downs (19621971), and Frank McGee (19711974). Barbara Walters became the first woman to co-host the show, which she did from 1974 to 1976. Walters was paired with a series of co-hosts until Jim Hartz got the permanent job. In 1976, Walters and Hartz were replaced by Tom Brokaw (19761981) and Jane Pauley (19761989). Subsequent hosts included Bryant Gumbel (19821997), Deborah Norville (19891991), Katie Couric (1991), and Matt Lauer (1997).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Kessler, Judy. Inside Today: The Battle for the Morning. New York: Villard, 1992.

Metz, Robert. The Today Show: An Inside Look at Twenty-five Tumultuous Years. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1977.

Robert Thompson

See also Television: Programming and Influence .

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today

to·day / təˈdā/ • adv. on or in the course of this present day: she's thirty today he will appear in court today. ∎  at the present period of time; nowadays: millions of people today cannot afford adequate housing. • n. this present day: today is a day of rest today's game against the Blue Jays. ∎  the present period of time: the powerful computers of today today's society.

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today

today today you; tomorrow me proverbial saying, mid 13th century; earlier in Latin, ‘hodie tibi, cras mihi [today it is my turn, tomorrow yours].’ The saying is often used in the context of the inevitability of death to each person.

See also what Manchester says today.

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today

today on this very day OE.; in these days XIII; sb. this day XVI; this present time XIX. OE. tōdæġ, f. TO + dæġ DAY.

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today

todayaffray, agley, aka, allay, Angers, A-OK, appellation contrôlée, array, assay, astray, au fait, auto-da-fé, away, aweigh, aye, bay, belay, betray, bey, Bombay, Bordet, boulevardier, bouquet, brae, bray, café au lait, Carné, cassoulet, Cathay, chassé, chevet, chez, chiné, clay, convey, Cray, crème brûlée, crudités, cuvée, cy-pres, day, decay, deejay, dégagé, distinguée, downplay, dray, Dufay, Dushanbe, eh, embay, engagé, essay, everyday, faraway, fay, fey, flay, fray, Frey, fromage frais, gainsay, gay, Gaye, Genet, gilet, glissé, gray, grey, halfway, hay, heigh, hey, hooray, Hubei, Hué, hurray, inveigh, jay, jeunesse dorée, José, Kay, Kaye, Klee, Kray, Lae, lay, lei, Littré, Lough Neagh, lwei, Mae, maguey, Malay, Mallarmé, Mandalay, Marseilles, may, midday, midway, mislay, misplay, Monterrey, Na-Dene, nay, né, née, neigh, Ney, noway, obey, O'Dea, okay, olé, outlay, outplay, outstay, outweigh, oyez, part-way, pay, Pei, per se, pince-nez, play, portray, pray, prey, purvey, qua, Quai d'Orsay, Rae, rangé, ray, re, reflet, relevé, roman-à-clef, Santa Fé, say, sei, Shar Pei, shay, slay, sleigh, sley, spae, spay, Spey, splay, spray, stay, straightaway, straightway, strathspey, stray, Sui, survey, sway, Taipei, Tay, they, today, tokay, Torbay, Tournai, trait, tray, trey, two-way, ukiyo-e, underlay, way, waylay, Wei, weigh, wey, Whangarei, whey, yea

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Today

Today

The longest-running early-morning network television program, the Today show premiered on NBC on January 14, 1952, just months after the first live coast-to-coast television broadcast in the United States. Aired live from New York at 7 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, the two-hour show—the prototype of the news-magazine format—added a live Saturday program in the 1990s. By the late 1990s, nearly half a century after its origin, the Today show was still relying on its original format: a combination of news, interviews with leading newsmakers, features on topics such as health, personal finance, and food, and entertainment segments.

Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, who developed Your Show of Shows and the Tonight show, created the Today show as a type of broadcast news magazine that could be watched in segments while viewers ate breakfast or prepared to go to work or school. It premiered when television sets were a rarity and early-morning broadcasting was unknown. In 1952, daytime television was still a rarity in many parts of the United States.

After a considerable search, the man Weaver chose to host the show was Dave Garroway, a relaxed, witty conversationalist who wore professorial horn-rimmed spectacles. His early experience as a radio newscaster, plus his wide audience gained on the variety show Garroway at Large over WMAQ-TV in Chicago, convinced Weaver he was the performer needed to attract and hold a nationwide audience that was just out of bed. Jack Lescoulie was picked to report sports as well as the amusing stories from the day's news, and Jim Fleming read a news summary every half hour. Today opened in its own studio in the RCA Exhibition Hall on West 49th Street in Manhattan, outfitted with a large plate-glass window that allowed passers-by to see the show and be seen on camera. President Harry Truman, known for his morning walks, happened to lead his entourage by the Today window one morning when he was in New York and was stopped for a brief interview. During the show's first year, television critics complained of the show's slow pace and obsession with technological gadgets.

The show began making money in its second year, attracting larger audiences and luring thousands of children and their parents by adding J. Fred Muggs to the cast. Muggs was a strong-minded ten-month-old chimpanzee, owned by trainers Buddy Menella and Roy Waldron, and his unpredictable antics sometimes intimidated the staff but delighted the audience. Within the year J. Fred was making personal appearance tours and meeting his adoring fans. He became more difficult to handle each year, and after five years gave way to a new chimp named Mr. Kokomo. The press release announcing his retirement said that Muggs was leaving to "extend his personal horizons."

In 1953 Frank Blair became the show's newscaster and remained on Today for 23 years, longer than anyone else connected with the show. That same year the show began to feature shapely young women as "Today girls," who read the temperature and a one-word description of the weather in major U.S. cities. The first of these was actress Estelle Parsons, followed by Lee Ann Meriwether (Miss America of 1955), singer Helen O'Connell, and actresses Betsy Palmer, Florence Henderson, and Maureen O'Sullivan. The only one of them to gain long-running status on the show was Barbara Walters, whose role was gradually expanded to that of co-anchor. Walters, who had appeared on the rival CBS The Morning Show was originally hired by Today as a writer. Pressed into on-camera service during the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, she became a regular in 1963.

In July of 1961 Dave Garroway closed the show for the last time, giving his audience a smile, a raised open palm, and his trademark "peace" signoff. He was replaced by John Chancellor, a veteran newscaster who was never comfortable in the show's format and left after 14 months. Hugh Downs replaced Chancellor in October, 1962, becoming the only television personality to have a regular position on all three of Pat Weaver's program creations, Today, Tonight, and Home. Downs had been Jack Paar's announcer and sidekick during the entire run of the Paar show from 1957-62. He continued to appear regularly on ABC's 20/20, co-anchoring the show with Barbara Walters, in the late 1990s.

Frank McGee replaced Downs in October, 1971, and Walters's growing stature on the show strained their relationship. Jim Hartz, hired with Walters's approval, replaced McGee—who died of bone cancer in 1974—and after a short stay was himself replaced by Tom Brokaw. When Walters left the show for a lucrative ABC contract in 1976, an extensive search was begun to replace her, and six candidates were tested on air: Cassie Mackin, Betty Rollin, Linda Ellerbee, Kelly Lange, Betty Furness, and Jane Pauley. Pauley, born in 1950, was only two years older than the show itself, but she won over all the contenders, and the new team of Brokaw, Pauley, and Willard Scott was able, in 1977, to bolster the show's declining ratings and maintain the show's number-one rank among morning shows. Bryant Gumbel joined the show as a sportscaster in 1980 and became a co-host in 1982. By that time, Today no longer was the dominant force in the early morning. ABC's Good Morning America, which had previously beaten Today in the ratings for a few weeks in 1979, now won the ratings race consistently in 1982 and 1983, and in one week in 1983, the CBS Morning News nudged Today into third place.

During the 1980s the Gumbel-Pauley-Scott team increased the show's ratings and won the race against Good Morning America frequently until 1989, when a well-publicized incident sent the series into another decline. In February, 1989, an intra-office memo in which Gumbel was harshly critical of Scott and Gene Shalit was leaked to the press, causing fans to express their loyalty by changing channels. The second move that proved unpopular with the viewers was the reduced role played by Jane Pauley when Deborah Norville was added to the show as newscaster. Pauley announced her departure on December 28, 1989, but continued on other NBC shows, filling in for Tom Brokaw on the NBC Nightly News and hosting her own prime-time series, Real Life with Jane Pauley.

Today's ratings plunged 15 percent in the spring of 1990, and Good Morning America was atop the charts again, but in April, 1991, the popular Katie Couric was named co-host with Bryant Gumbel, and Today soon became dominant again. She had joined the show in June, 1990, as its first national correspondent and had served as substitute anchor since February, 1991. A native of Washington, D.C., and an honor graduate of the University of Virginia, Couric showed an intelligent, probing, but polite and friendly style in memorable segments of the show, including Hillary Rodham Clinton's first television interview as First Lady, General Colin Powell's farewell to his position on the joints chiefs of staff, Anita Hill's first interview after the crisis with Clarence Thomas, and General Norman Schwarzkopf's first interview after the Persian Gulf War. She has also co-hosted, with Dick Enberg, NBC's morning coverage of the Summer Olympics in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996).

Matt Lauer, a native of New York City, replaced Bryant Gumbel as co-anchor of Today in January, 1997, and the show has continued to gain viewers. A graduate of Ohio University with a degree in communications, Lauer worked as co-anchor of Today in New York for the city's NBC affiliate before joining the network Today show's news desk in 1994. His frequent filling in for golfing buddy Gumbel led to an outpouring of cards and letters from fans throughout the nation, and Lauer was promoted to co-anchor. Another factor in the show's continued high ratings was the moving of the show into a glass-walled, ground-floor production center in June, 1994. Just as in the early days of the show, the crowd outside the window has become a vital part of the Today show, and the stars frequently conduct onthe-spot interviews with visitors. In January, 1999, Today had national ratings nearly twice those of the next highest competitor.

The Today show remains a window on the world for its viewers, with live shows originating from the Orient Express streaking across Europe, as well as from China, the Soviet Union, the French Riviera, Italy, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Australia, South America, and Cuba. Other familiar faces on the 1999 Today show include Ann Curry, news anchor; Al Roker, weather; Gene Shalit, film critic; and Willard Scott, known for his comic remarks and his daily list of America's latest centenarians.

—Benjamin Griffith

Further Reading:

Castleman, Harry, and Walter J. Podrazik. Watching TV: Four Decades of Watching Television. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Kessler, Judy. Inside Today: The Battle for the Morning. New York, Villard, 1992.

McNeil, Alex. Total Television: A Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present. New York, Penguin Books, 1991.

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Today

Today



An early morning news and entertainment program, NBC's Today set the standard that other shows, like Good Morning America, would later adopt as well. Since its 1952 debut, Today has run through many different hosts, has gone up and down in the ratings race, but has retained the basic format developed by creator Sylvester "Pat" Weaver (1908–2002). It remains an important part of the morning ritual for millions of American viewers in the twenty-first century.

A pioneer of TV's golden age, Weaver structured Today around news, interviews, and lifestyle segments. Viewers could watch bits and pieces of the program on their way out the door to work or school. The first host of Today was newsman Dave Garroway (1913–1982). One of his "cohosts" during those early telecasts was J. Fred Muggs, a chimpanzee whose antics helped attract younger viewers. The mischievous ape became something of a cult hero and generated a lot of publicity for the show with live appearances around the country. Muggs "retired" in 1958.

Over the years, the show has utilized other gimmicks to lure in bigger audiences. These included using "Today girls" on features or to report on the weather; such "girls" included Florence Henderson (1934–) and Lee Meriwether (1935–). Jolly weather-man Willard Scott (1934–) has also wished Happy Birthday to centenarians (100-year-olds). Another unique aspect of Today was its ground-floor New York City studio, through which ordinary citizens could watch the show and appear on camera. The glass-walled studio was discontinued for many years before returning in 1994.

Hosting duties on Today have helped launch the careers of many "stars" of network news, including Tom Brokaw (1940–), Barbara Walters (1931–), and Jane Pauley (1950–). Bryant Gumbel (1948–), an NBC sportscaster who took over as Today host in 1982, proved to be one of the show's most durable and controversial personalities. He feuded with his colleagues on the show, especially weatherman Scott, whom he criticized in an infamous 1989 not-meant-to-be-public memo. Nevertheless, Gumbel's tenure saw Today achieve some of its highest ratings ever. In the 1990s, the team of perky NBC News correspondent Katie Couric (1957–) and handsome New York City native Matt Lauer (1957–) was successful and maintained Today's dominance of the 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. time slot. A new weatherman, Al Roker (1954–), replaced Scott in 1996.


—Robert E. Schnakenberg


For More Information

Davis, Gerry. The Today Show: An Anecdotal History. New York: Morrow, 1987.

Kessler, Judy. Inside Today: The Battle for the Morning. New York: Villard, 1992.

Metz, Robert. The Today Show: An Inside Look At 25 Tumultuous Years. . . and the Colorful and Controversial People Behind the Scenes. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1977.

Today: 50th Anniversary.http://www.msnbc.com/modules/tvnews/today_50/fifty_front.asp (accessed March 11, 2002).

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