NBC is turning to its sports department in an effort to reverse the downward course of "Today," which is in danger of ending its 10-year reign as the top-rated morning show.
Jim Bell, a 15-year veteran with NBC Sports who was coordinating producer of the 2004 Summer Olympics, yesterday was named executive producer of "Today." He replaces Tom Touchet, who was fired earlier this week.
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"Today" will receive extra guidance from Phil Griffin, MSNBC's vice president of prime-time programming, who was appointed executive in charge of the program.
Although "Today" is still the most watched morning show of the big three networks, ABC's "Good Morning America" has been nipping at its heels.
In October 2002, when Touchet was hired, "Today" averaged 6.2 million viewers and led "GMA" by about 1.5 million viewers. This season, although it still has 6 million viewers, its lead over "GMA" is down to 660,000.
During the week of April 4, the last week measured by Nielsen, "Today" was only 350,000 viewers ahead of "GMA." The ABC morning show has gotten a boost this season from the network's revived prime-time lineup.
Bell said it's not time to hit the panic button at Rockefeller Center and make a radical change in programming format. "The lead is still a lead no matter what it is," Bell said of the ratings yesterday. "I have a few thoughts, but I'd like to get in there for a little while and get my feet wet before really getting into too much of that right now."
As far as a career sports man making the leap into news, Bell said it's a "logical extension." In both news and sports, "you're covering a live event, you're reacting to it, you're telling a story," he said. "There's some things that are going to be new to me, but I can't wait."