April 6th, 2014

Norville: Happy for David Letterman

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources hosted by Brian Stelter, former anchor of “The Today Show”, and host of “Inside Edition”, Deborah Norville, spoke to CNN about ABC’s Good Morning America cast member Josh Elliott’s decision to join arch rival NBC and the Late Show’s David Letterman’s retirement.

A transcript  and video of the interview are available after the jump.


TV rocked around the clock


STELTER:  Right at that moment, speculation began about who is going to be his late night successor.

There was also lots of talk this week about the future of morning TV.  When ABC’s top-rated “Good Morning America” started on Monday morning, one cast member had vanished.  You probably heard what happened.  A new before, Josh Elliott quit to join archrival NBC.

But why wasn’t he back on the show at all?  Well, as one source said, he’s crossing enemy lines.  This source called NBC the sworn enemy of ABC.

And it’s true, “GMA” and NBC’s “Today” show have been battling for first place status for decades.  Elliott’s move is a big deal.  I wrote a book about morning TV last year and I can’t come up with any other example of a co-host of one of those shows immediately moving to the other network.

Now, technically, Elliott’s only joining NBC Sports, not the “Today” show.  But every source I have and every person in the industry that follows this stuff thinks he’s in line for Matt Lauer’s chair on “Today.”

People love these morning shows and late night shows too.  They almost feel like the hosts are members of their own families.  So, I wanted to talk to someone with an anchor’s eye view on all of this.

So, I invited Deborah Norville who once hosted the “Today” show and is now the host of “Inside Edition”.  She joins me from New York.

Welcome, Deborah.

DEBORAH NORVILLE, INSIDE EDITION:  Thanks, Brian, how are you?

STELTER:  I’m well.  How are you?

NORVILLE:  I’m great.  This has been an interesting week.  But you know what’s kind of funny, is it was a big blip on Monday and, of course, people are still talking about it.

But how much is it going to impact the ratings at “Good Morning America”?  I’ll be interested to see what this past week’s numbers are when they come out later this week.

STELTER:  In the last two years or so, “GMA” has held up remarkably well no matter what happens.  Robin Roberts went away because of her illness.  She was away for six months and the show held up.  She came back, the show held up.

It’s been doing well no matter what happens in the war between these two shows.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  And I think one of the things that I haven’t seen anybody comment about in all the reportage that’s been going on this past week and that is we now have three network morning shows that are peopled, the majority of the cast are women and arguably at one of those shows at “Good Morning America,” I think you could say that the strongest player on the broadcast is, in fact, a woman.

Robin was elevated tremendously through the grace with which she handled her medical challenges.  ABC was incredibly sensitive to it.  And a lot of people believe the reason for the strength of that program is the way people have seen their challenges played out in a certain way and the way that Robin and now recently Amy Robach has done with her breast cancer.

STELTER:  And Amy Robach was promoted and replaced Josh Elliott as the news anchor on GMA.

What do you make of the fact that they’re so female-centered, female-led right now?

NORVILLE:  I know you’re recently married.  My guess is because of what you do, you get to control the clicker.  In most houses in America, that’s not how it works.

Mom is in charge, particularly in the morning.  And the morning programs are almost like the clock by which people’s days are set.

STELTER:  Do you think that’s changing in an age where people are waking up with their phones maybe before they wake up with the TV set?

NORVILLE:  Yes, they do.  Yes, I think it is.  I think that’s one.  Reasons maybe it’s not as big a story as it might have been five years ago or when Ann Curry left the “Today” show.

There was a lot more agita, a lot more angst, there were certainly a lot more tears shed when Ann left.  And it appeared in that instance that Matt Lauer, rightly or wrongly, a lot of people thought Matt had something to do with it.

In the case of ABC, it appears that Josh thought he was worth more money than ABC was prepared to pay.  ABC said this is our best offer and we feel very confident that it’s a great offer for you.  Josh and his team felt otherwise.  And he left of his own accord.

So, it’s not a situation where people can say, this guy was being pushed out.

STELTER:  Right.

NORVILLE:  He made a business decision, NBC made a business decision in bringing him in.  Let me ask you a question.  Do you think it’s a “Today” show decision?

STELTER:  Well, you know, you’re putting me on the spot mere.  I don’t think Josh Elliott’s just going to NBC for NBC Sports.  I think initially the negotiations were about news and sports, then they just talked about sports for a while because the “Today” show has got to appear not to be forcing somebody out.  They had that terrible mistake with Ann Curry.

Whether they did the right thing or not, they did it the wrong way.  So, they can’t do that again.

I think it makes sense to have Josh Elliott come over initially for NBC Sports.  Now that he’s in the company, he could look at a “Today” show job in six months, a year, two years from now.  That would make the most sense.

NORVILLE:  I think one of the things that’s also interesting, you look at ABC and NBC, and they both have a large number of individuals on their show.  When I was a part of morning television, there was the host, the co-host, the weather person and the news reader.  That was it.

Now you’ve got six, eight, depending how you want to tally up the various hours.

STELTER:  Right.

NORVILLE:  People on these broadcasts, as opposed to CBS, which has had tremendous ratings growth with three players.  They don’t even have a weather person.  They depend on their local affiliates to provide the weather, because, frankly, who cares what it’s doing in California if you live in New Hampshire.

STELTER:  Since you’ve actually been in one of these chairs, you’re on the “Today” show for a year and you were unceremoniously dispatched when the young Katie Couric took over.  What’s it feel like to be in that situation when the changes are taking place?  What’s it like behind the scenes?


NORVILLE:  You have to write another book on that one, darling.

One of the things I did, Brian, I felt wounded when I left NBC.  I’ve used the analogy that you’re standing on the edge of a cliff and there are 10,000 people with bayonets coming your way.  You look over the cliff and it’s a river filled with ravenous crocodiles.  You have a choice — do you wait for the bayonet guys or jump to the crocodiles.  In my case, I jumped to the crocodiles and miraculously managed to live.

I’ve never really spoken about what was going on behind the scenes in any detail because, you know what, at the end of the day, I have been blessed to have a very long career.  This was 23 years ago.  I’m still on television.  The program I do is the number one syndicated news magazine in America.  I’ve been able to have this career because I’ve been judicious about what I’ve said.

So, I will never speak ill of the people who have been my colleagues in the past and may well be my colleagues in the future.

STELTER:  The other big news this week, David Letterman announcing his retirement.  How did you react when you heard the news on Thursday?

NORVILLE:  Well, I was happy for Dave.  I mean, my gosh, what an amazing career he’s had.  I was a huge fan of his back when he had that very short live show during the daytime at NBC.  I was working nights.  I used to watch that show before I went to my very first TV reporting job way back when.

I think you look at David Letterman, you look at his career, he is truly one of the innovators in television today.  A lot of guys, I think Jimmy Fallon is doing a fantastic show.  And perhaps it’s the strength of his show now that he’s launched that’s encouraged Dave to say, you know what, the end of this contract cycle, let’s let the next generation have it.

STELTER:  Who should be the next host of “The Late Show”?

NORVILLE:  Well, you know, a lot of the names are coming from the other incubator of innovation on television today, and that’s cable TV.  Comedy Central has got both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who have been bandied about.  I’ve seen other names out there, as you have as well.

You know what, this is when it’s fun for people like you.  You get to speculate, you get to talk to the folks you know behind the scenes and throw little things out there.  And also, people who cover the media like you can be very influential in teeing up some of those individuals.

So, who would you want to tee up, Mr. Stelter?

STELTER:  Well, Chelsea Handler’s name came to mind because of her contract is up at E! at end of this year.  That would be a risky choice given how controversial she’s been and how many fights she got into with E!

Then again, David letterman got into feuds with CBS.  So, maybe that would make it fun.

NORVILLE:  I’d hate to think the decision is being made just on gender.  I say that as a woman.

The decision being made should be made, I think, on who is going to be the person who is right for the kind of show you want.  If they think comedy sells at that time of night, I don’t think they’re wrong, they need to find the funniest, most innovative, most watchable, most gee whiz, wow, did you see that, let me check it out on you-tube person they can find, because that component as we’ve seen with Fallon and with the Jimmys has been very, very big now in television.

STELTER:  Deborah Norville, thank you so much for joining me.

NORVILLE:  My pleasure.  Thanks for having me.

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