NBC executives are readying a plan to replace Ann Curry on the “Today” show, only a year after she became the co-host of the iconic franchise.
The planning — which is taking place in secret and has not been finalized — is effectively an admission that all is not well at “Today,” the show that invented morning television 60 years ago and has inspired countless lower-rated competitors since. “Today” consistently ranked No. 1 in the morning ratings until this spring, when ABC’s “Good Morning America” beat it for several weeks.
Even before then, some at NBC were openly criticizing the co-hosting style of Ms. Curry, who succeeded Meredith Vieira last year, after spending 14 years on the show in a lesser role. Questions about her future have encircled the broadcast for months. Some staffers have placed the blame for the ratings woes on Ms. Curry and others have defended her.
Several weeks ago, network officials and Ms. Curry began to discuss a different job for her, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations, who insisted on anonymity because the matter was confidential. Those discussions have continued and are expected to be completed before NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics begins in late July.
Ms. Curry, who has not had a television agent for years, has hired a well-known attorney, Robert Barnett, to represent her in the negotiations, according to these people. It is unclear whether she has explicitly agreed to any arrangement that NBC has offered her in lieu of “Today.” But several people who know Ms. Curry say that she has been struggling with the idea of leaving the show for some time now.
“She got her dream job, and she doesn’t want to let it go,” one of the people said. But Ms. Curry has also expressed dissatisfaction with “Today,” where her journalistic curiosities sometimes clash with morning television realities. Accordingly, she may be moved into a foreign correspondent role, reflecting her strengths in reporting from disasters both man-made, like the ethnic killings in Darfur, and natural, like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Mr. Barnett represented Christiane Amanpour last winter when she was moved off the ABC News program “This Week” and into a foreign correspondent role for the network as well as an anchor role for CNN. Ms. Amanpour’s title at ABC now is “global affairs anchor.” He has also worked with a number of NBC anchors and correspondents in the past.
At NBC, information about the talks with Ms. Curry is being closely held between Jim Bell, the executive producer of “Today”; Steve Capus, the president of NBC News; and Steve Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, which is controlled by Comcast. A spokeswoman for NBC News said the network declined to comment.
NBC, a network that has historically prided itself on smooth talent transitions, at least until its ugly public breakup with Conan O’Brien in 2010, has not determined who will replace Ms. Curry on “Today.” The person most often mentioned, and who most often fills in when Ms. Curry is away, is Savannah Guthrie, the co-host of the show’s 9 a.m. hour. Ms. Vieira, who is now a special correspondent for NBC News, has also been mentioned, though she has told friends that she will not return to the “Today” show full time.
The negotiations between NBC and Ms. Curry come months after Matt Lauer renewed his contract at “Today,” putting to rest months of speculation about how badly the show would be damaged if he departed. Ms. Curry’s departure, similarly, could hurt “Today;” if viewers perceive that she was forced out, they may be turned off by the show, and may literally turn it off as a result.
This concern, expressed repeatedly in the last six months, has slowed down the process of replacing Ms. Curry, according to people at the network. But the process is now clearly under way, and executives in the television news industry believe that changes to Ms. Curry’s role on “Today” could be announced as early as next week. The timing is sensitive because in late July, NBC begins to broadcast the Summer Olympics and the “Today” show tags along, transplanting its studio to the host city.
“They feel real pressure to get it done by the Olympics,” one of the people with knowledge of the negotiations said. That way, “Today” can go to the games with a complete, comfortable team of co-hosts. The show typically gets a big ratings bounce — just the sort of thing it needs to fend off “Good Morning America.”
Of course, some people at “G.M.A.” are happy to have the uncertainty about Ms. Curry linger, because they believe their show is benefiting from it. It is conventional wisdom in morning television that chemistry between hosts is a hugely important factor in viewers’ decisions about what to watch in the mornings. It is also conventional wisdom that the “G.M.A.” cast currently has better chemistry than the “Today” cast.
Mr. Lauer and Ms. Curry noticeably lack the kind of on-camera rapport that Mr. Lauer had with Ms. Vieira and, before her, Katie Couric. Thus far this month, they’ve been apart almost as many mornings as they’ve been together; when “Today” went to London to cover the Queen’s Jubilee on June 4 and 5, Ms. Vieira sat in Ms. Curry’s place.
In recent interviews, Mr. Lauer has described his relationship with Ms. Curry as a transition. In one, on CNN last month,he said she had “the biggest heart in broadcasting.”