When ABC announced that Katie Couric was going to substitute for Robin Roberts all week on “Good Morning America,” viewers who follow the Morning Show Wars knew this was a case of ABC knowing that they had the “Today” show in their sights and decided to go for the kill shot to end the NBC stalwart’s 16-year ratings winning streak.
But NBC had an ace up their sleeve: Former vice presidential candidate and all-around lightning rod Sarah Palin, who co-hosted the 8 AM hour after being interviewed by Matt Lauer during the first hour. Which network stunt scored more points?
It’s hard to deny that there was a curiosity in seeing how the former Alaska governor would handle the rigors of hosting cooking segments and throwing to Al Roker‘s weather reports. But we figured that some of her ’80s-era sportscasting experience would kick in and she’d handle things smoothly.
Unfortunately, the folks at “Today” never really gave her a chance to actually host; during a craft/party planning segment with Tori Spelling, for instance, Ann Curry asked most of the questions, while Palin and Spelling kibitzed about how tiring it is to have kids as Ann tried to throw it to a commercial.
She fared better in the “Today’s Professionals” segment, though the penchant for sticking to talking points that she showed during Lauer’s interview left her unprepared to spar with the speak-their-minds trio of Star Jones, Donny Deutsch and Nancy Snyderman. When Deutsch said that politicians and their rhetoric have helped create a toxic culture that generates things like Facebook “enemies” apps, he specifically mentioned Palin’s “Anyone but Obama” quote from her interview with Lauer. Palin weakly countered that she wasn’t being negative with her language in that interview.
One thing that Palin did show, by the way, was a good sense of humor. When they flashed to her on the couch at the beginning of the show, she was sitting next to a stack of newspapers, a reference to her infamous interview with Couric during the ’08 campaign as well as a question Lauer asked of her when they talked to her by phone on Monday. She also thought Tina Fey did a good job playing her on “SNL” in 2008 (she wasn’t so kind about Julianne Moore playing her in “Game Change,” though the Professionals panel chided her for never seeing the movie). And she managed to laugh when Lauer said she was technically joining the “lamestream media” she had just finished criticizing with her hosting gig.
Couric, on the other hand, was smooth as silk in her second day sitting next to George Stephanopoulos at the “GMA” anchor desk. In fact, during both days, it looked like didn’t skip a beat from 2006, when she left “Today” to take the “CBS Evening News” anchor job.
She was a bit incredulous during some of the fluffier segments, including Lara Specncer‘s light-as-air celebrity news and the viral video “Play of the Day,” but she handled the rest of the segments like the pro she is, including an interview with Camille Grammer where the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star revealed that she told Bravo that she wouldn’t want her kids or her new boyfriend on camera, and didn’t like what they were offering her to come back for a third season. Couric also kicked butt in a speed cooking segment with Emeril Lagasse, Spencer, Stephanopoulos and Sam Champion.
Watching Katie in her morning-show element made us wistful for her days on “Today,” especially now that we’re seeing how much Curry is struggling with striking the right tone in the co-host job. She had an easy-going manner about her and her joking camaraderie with Stephanopoulos reminded us of the brother-sister vibe she had with Lauer for so many years. It also made us think that if Roberts ever decided to move on from “GMA,” they’d bring back Couric in a millisecond if she was willing to go back to that “wake up at 3 AM” grind that she did for fifteen years.
For this reason, it’s pretty clear that ABC and “GMA” won this morning’s battle in the morning show wars. Couric’s charm and professionalism will win out over NBC’s gimmicks any day of the week. In fact, NBC is 0-for-2 in trying to draw eyes away from their competitors this week, as their “Today Legend” stunt from yesterday (psst… it was the just-departed Meredith Vieira) fell flat, especially compared to Couric’s debut on “GMA” and Oprah Winfrey revealing her OWN mistakes on “CBS This Morning.” Could this be the week that “Today” goes down for the count? We’ll see, but it’s definitely going to be a close race.