NEW YORK (AP) — Susan Wurtzel owns a "Today" show T-shirt and a mug. When the stay-at-home mom and her family visited New York from their home in Germantown, Md., they joined the crowd of fans outside the NBC morning show's Rockefeller Center studio.
Now, after more than 20 years as a regular "Today" viewer, Wurtzel tunes to CBS most mornings.
Multiply such defections and you have the chief reason for television's changing fortunes in morning news, where ABC's "Good Morning America" has ended NBC's epic 17-year winning streak on "Today." ABC is growing — "GMA" has 110,000 more viewers each day this year than last — but not as much as NBC is slipping (437,000 viewers a day since last year).
Wurtzel, 57, left last spring because of "Today" co-host Ann Curry.
"Ann's interview style was like chalk on a board to me," she said. "She leaned toward her interviewee and whispered her questions like someone had died. The more serious the interview, the quieter she got. When she replaced Meredith (Vieira), I tried to adjust and accept, but she just didn't work for me. Katie (Couric) and Meredith were relatable, empathetic and funny. Ann just seemed out of place."
Executives at NBC were quietly reaching the same conclusion and moved to replace Curry with Savannah Guthrie.
Then came June 28, 2012, Curry's last day as co-host. She cried in bewilderment at her perceived failure at losing the job she had sought for years, as her uncomfortable co-workers and a nation looked on.
Suddenly, a problem for NBC became a BIG problem. Even people who didn't particularly like Curry loathed the way she was dispatched. Except for two weeks during the Olympics, "Today" hasn't sniffed first place in the ratings since. During the first six months of 2012, "Today" averaged just under 5.2 million viewers each weekday. Since July 2, the audience has dropped to 4.59 million, according to Nielsen, the company that measures TV audiences. Without the two weeks of the London Olympics, the average is 4.3 million. That's a stunning drop, even accounting for typical lower viewership in the summer.