NEW YORK — Tuesday morning, Ann Curry got thumped by a “Today” TV camera.
It happened during a crowd-panning sequence out on Rockefeller Plaza: Curry's face collided (or appeared to) with the camera lens on live TV.
Matt Lauer introduced her as “old flat-nose Ann Curry,” in a likely reference to a character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as everybody shared a laugh at her expense.
Still, this indignity was small potatoes for the wakeup host, who has faced down months of speculation that she hasn't pulled her weight in the morning-show ratings war.
But if shrinking ratings for “Today” seem to be leading Curry into the sunset, the fault may not lie in her performance as much as in the nature of the war she was drafted to fight.
Curry, who was tapped to sit alongside Lauer when Meredith Vieira left NBC's “Today” last June, is reportedly about to pay the price for the resurgence of ABC's “Good Morning America,” which recently snapped the winning ratings streak “Today” had reveled in for more than 16 years.
Curry is generally regarded as a solid journalist, with a passion for international reporting, as well as a good soldier: Starting at “Today” as its news reader in 1997, she stood by patiently in 2006 as Katie Couric left for CBS and Vieira, not she, won the plum co-anchor job.
An upcoming cover story in Ladies' Home Journal magazine (which arrives on newsstands in a couple of weeks and may serve as her unexpected eulogy) finds Curry saying noble things like, “I know NBC pays my salary but I have never doubted who I work for ... the people who watch” and, “I want to have a life of value. For me, that means giving people information that can give them a better life.”
A year ago, on landing the anchor job, she voiced the same sentiments.
But all this raises a bigger question: Has Curry ever taken a good look at the show she's such a big part of?
With an almost single-minded focus on celebrity, crime, scandal and soft-serve news-you-can-use (plus music performances, of course), “Today” most days has only a passing resemblance to an actual news program.
Besides, how do you measure Curry's day-to-day performance when morning ratings are skewed by an ever-escalating arms race of stunting between “Today” and “GMA,” where, in the first two hours when they go head-to-head, no gimmick is spared and no retaliatory strike is too outrageous (witness Sarah Palin snagged as a “Today” guest host in May to blunt the anticipated audience spike when Katie Couric guest-hosted on “GMA”).
Never mind. “Today” has stumbled. Curry apparently will take the fall.
For Curry, whose sometimes serious reporting is easily lost in her show's overwhelming foolishness, a departure from “Today” might actually be fitting. If she's really a serious journalist — or believes she is, at least — she's in the wrong place.