This week marks the first time that The Today Show anchors Hoda Kotb and and Kathie Lee Gifford hosted the top of the hour of the news program. Fans of the morning newscast know Kotb and Gifford are a part of the fourth hour of the show. This is all a part of Today‘s homecoming week which has brought back familiar faces like Meredith Vieria, Brian Williams, and Tom Borkaw, who are all filling in for Savannah Guthrie while she is on maternity leave. Here are fifteen facts you may not have known about the popular morning news program.
1. The Today Show first premiered on January 14, 1952. It was the very first national morning news program of its kind when it began airing 62 years ago. The show was originally two hours in length and ran Monday – Friday. In 1987, an hour long Sunday broadcast began airing. Five years later in 1992, a two hour long Saturday edition began to air. The Today Show started airing for three hours during the week in 2000. In 2007, the show was upped to four hours. It is currently the fifth longest running American television series behind Meet the Press and CBS Evening News.
2. The person who came up with the concept for The Today Show was Sylvester B. “Pat” Weaver Jr. He was the president of NBC from 1953 – 1955 and is the father of actress Sigourney Weaver. The Today Show was not the first title of the news program. The working title of the program was The Rise and Shine Revue. During his time with the network, Weaver also started airing The Tonight Show and created Home and Wide Wide World. Years after leaving the network, he expressed his disgust with the direction the network had taken. He passed away in 2002.
3. The Today Show generally only airs live in the Eastern Time Zone at 7 AM. It is shown on tape delay at 7 AM in the five other time zones located in the United States. If there is breaking news the day of the taping, The Today Show will broadcast a live West Coast edition. The live feed will play out for the first hour then return to the taped East Coast version. Local affiliates will be given two five minutes time periods during the hour to break to local news. These occur at :25 and :55. Generally, local weather updates are given during these times.
4. When The Today Show first aired, it was broadcast from the RCA Exhibition Hall. The building is now where Christie’s auction house is located. The show would move to a different studio across the street in 1958 and would remain there for four years. In 1962, The Today Show went back to using a street-side studio. By 1965, The Today Show moved back to the RCA Exhibition Hall. Since the 1970’s, The Today Show has been housed out of NBC’s headquarters. At one point, the show was located adjacent to the SNL set. The show has been at its current street-side location since 1994.
5. Anchors on The Today Show started out as “Communicatiors.” Pat Weaver wanted these “Communicators” to do more than just sit behind a news desk and report the news of the day. He wanted them to also interview, and create smooth transitions between news segments. They would also work as moderators during discussions with guests with opposing view points on many different topics. The concept has remained intact over the last six decades. Presently, those anchors will get out of the studio and go on location and at times will host special segments.
6. For the first 25 years of The Today Show, there was not a weather anchor. Weather reports were delivered by the “Communicators” or anchors. Dave Garroway, the first anchor on the news program, would draw on a chalkboard map what areas would be affected by precipitation. The information was collected before the morning broadcast from the U.S. Weather Bureau located in Washington D.C. Once the show was broadcast in color, weather maps were prepared and shown on screen. The first weather reporter was Bob Ryan. He was with the show from 1978-1980.
7. Between the years of 1952 to 1964, there would be a female anchor that was known as a Today girl. The very first Today girl was Estelle Parsons, who would go to play Beverly Harris on the hit sitcom Roseanne. The Today girl would report on such topics as the weather, fashion, and cover other light-fare stories. Other notable women who filled this role are Lee Meriwether, Florence Henderson, and Barbara Walters. Walters was the last woman to hold this position, as she was promoted to co-host with Hugh Downs in 1966 after being with the show for 2 years.
8. From 1953 to 1957, The Today Show had a mascot that was a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs. During the first seaosn, the show was struggling in the ratings and the chimpanzee was brought in to gain viewership and sway advertisers to buy ad time. It has been said the Dave Garroway became so jealous of the attention J. Fred Muggs was receiving that he would spike the animal’s orange juice so that he would begin to misbehave on set. As of 2012, J. Fred Muggs is in his sixties and still alive. He resides in Citrus Park, Florida and lives with his girlfriend Phoebe B. Beebe.
9. Bryant Gumbel, who was with The Today Show from 1982 to 1997, wrote a letter to Marty Ryan that winded up going public. Ryan was the executive producer of the show at the time. The letter included negative comments about many of Gumbel’s co-workers. It was never confirmed who leaked the information. Gumbel said that movie reviews put together by Gene Shalit were, “often late and his interviews aren’t very good.” He also admitted that Willard Scott “holds the show hostage. This guy is killing us and no one’s even trying to rein him in.”
10. Deborah Norville started on The Today Show in 1989 at the Today newsdesk when she was 30. Shortly after taking over the newsdesk, she became the third co-host of the news porgram and sat alongside Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley. Many speculated this move was to increase ratings with younger women and have Pauley exit, which she did in October of that year. Negative press would result from Pauley’s exit and Norville was not allowed to defend herself to press. Norville was fired from the show in 1991 after a photo of her breastfeeding her child was shown in People magazine.
11. In February 2012, The Today Show ran an edited version of the 9-1-1 call that George Zimmerman made after the Trayvon Martin shooting. The call that aired on the news program depicted Zimmerman as a racist and had him saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” In the actual 9-1-1 call Zimmerman says, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around.” The operator then asked what Trayvon’s race was, to which Zimmerman said he looked black.
12. On September 11, 2012, The Today Show refused to cut away from an interview with Kris Jenner from Keeping Up with the Kardashians to broadcast ceremonies remembering those who had passed away 11 years prior during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The remembrance was taking place at 8:46 A.M., which was the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center and included a moment of silence for the 2,996 who died because of the events. NBC was the only network that did not air the ceremony. The network sent out an apology to affiliate managers, but not the public.
13. On January 17, 2007, it was announced that The Today Show would begin airing for a 4th hour and the show would conclude at 11 AM. The first airing took place on September 10, 2007. Instead of taking an hour away from syndicated programming, the network decided to cancel the soap opera Passions, which began airing in 1999. It would move to the 101 Network for another year before ending. The fourth hour was hosted by Ann Curry, Natalie Morales, and Hoda Kotb. Kathie Lee would take on the co-hosting duties in 2008.
14. The Today Show began airing an online only feature on the show’s website on May 3rd, 2010. The show was called Today in Two Minutes and was hosted by Natalie Morales. The webcast discussed the weather and important news updates from the day. The segment is posted on the site at 6:30 AM, which is 30 minutes before the televised show airs and provide a look at what would becoming up later on in the televised show. There was a segment on The Today Show when it first premiered in 1952 called Today in Two Minutes, but it does not resemble the version of today.
15. Before becoming the weatherman on The Today Show, Willard Scott played a very important character in American culture. From 1963 to 1966, Scott portrayed Ronald McDonald for the franchise. After 1966, he would only periodically play the clown and would stop playing him all together in 1971. There were claims that Scott was replaced in the role because of his weight. McDoanld’s was worried that having an overweight man playing Ronald would hurt the image of the popular fast-food chain. Scott also portrayed Bozo the Clown.
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