NBC’s Today show made its TV debut 60 years ago, and it’s hard to think of an idea the innovative, free-wheeling show hasn’t at least dabbled with. In the 1950s, it boasted an on-air chimpanzee mascot named J. Fred Muggs. In the 1990s, it pioneered the modern craze for street-side studios. Luminaries including Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw have served as hosts. But now for the first time ever, it’s trying something brand new: a woman executive producer.
Alexandra Wallace, currently a senior vice president of NBC News, will become the executive producer of the morning show soon, according to the New York Times. Jim Bell, who has been in charge since 2005, is on his way out at the end of a tumultuous year.
Host Ann Curry was given the boot this summer, delivering a tearful goodbye after just a year on the job. Even though viewers never really took to Curry, the abrupt way she was given the boot didn’t sit well with them. Many blamed co-host Matt Lauer, who was rumored to have pushed for Curry’s firing, but Bell said publicly it was his choice to replace Curry with Savannah Guthrie. Lauer remains, but he’s less popular with viewers.
The Today show is used to being in first place among the morning shows, but this year it dropped behind ABC’s Good Morning America and has never really caught up. Some (including former host Katie Couric!) have said the show has lost its focus on real news lately. On September 11, it featured an interview with Kris Jenner about her breast implants instead of observing the moment of silence at Ground Zero.
Wallace worked for CBS for 17 years, where she served as senior producer of both The Early Show and CBS This Morning. Previously she has served as a producer for CBS evening news. She moved to NBC in 2005, and she took over leadership of Rock Center, Brian Williams‘ evening newsmagazine, in September. The Times says she could keep her position at Rock Center while taking over the Today show.
Wallace’s arrival means executives are hoping to shake things up. The very fact that she’s a woman will be something brand new for the show. GMA has had women executive producers, but Today never has. As the Times points out, “for the most part men have run the network morning shows, which rise or fall mainly on their ability to get women to watch.” Interestingly, the network executive who’s overseeing Wallace’s hiring is a woman, Patricia Fili-Krushel, who was hired this summer.