The latest chapter in the continuing saga of the "Today" show once again points out exactly what's wrong with television news in general and network news in particular.
Style is more important than substance. Personality is more important than competence. Looks are more important than ability.And nowhere has this been more true than on the troubled set of "Today."
Just last week, Deborah Norville - the woman believed to have pushed the sainted Jane Pauley off her throne - was dethroned herself. Katie Couric will be the new co-host, sitting on the couch next to Bryant Gumble.
(And this is supposed to be some sort of a promotion?)
The whole thing is pretty ridiculous.
Pauley, for all of her newfound status, wasn't that great on the "Today" show. She had the advantage of longevity (13 years), but she was never more than adequate as a newswoman.
But she did have a folksy charm that viewers apparently want to see in the morning. (But which is failing badly in her "Real Life" series in prime time.)
However, the execs at NBC News saw what they perceived as dark clouds on the horizon. The ratings for "Today" were falling and ABC's "Good Morning, America" was on the climb.
Worse than that - "GMA" was attracting younger viewers. (Horrors! Advertising dollars lost!)
After months (or was that minutes?) of careful pondering, these same geniuses decided to dump Pauley (then 39) to bring on Norville (then 31) to attract these younger viewers.
It turned out to be perhaps the dumbest move in recent television history. For all the bad press she got, it wasn't Norville's fault. She didn't turn down the job, obviously, but she became the victim of some incredibly lame public relations.
(Hers is not the first head to roll, however. Dick Ebersol, who was in charge of "Today" at the time was allowed to resign from that post and concentrate on being president of NBC Sports last year. But don't believe for a minute that it was a voluntary resignation.)
Norville, who was competent as a news reader on "Today," was terrible as co-host. She didn't have the interviewing abilities, she didn't have the ability to work without a script - she didn't have the charm. (There's that word again.)
And "Today" lagged into second place.
Worse yet, she went on maternity leave. In the month that she'd been gone and Couric has been center stage, "Today" has jumped to within three-tenths of a rating point of "GMA," the best the show has done since before Pauley left.
The handwriting was on the wall.
It's not that Couric is a better newswoman. It's not even that being a newswoman is important.
She just projects a more folksy, girl-next-door image.
And, more importantly, Couric is not the woman who replaced Jane Pauley. She's the woman who replaced the woman who forced Jane Pauley out, in the public's perception.
So her tenure may be much longer than Norville's 13 months.
But she still has to work with Gumbel every day.For the record, Norville insists that it was her decision not to return to "Today." She says she wants to spend at least a year home with her newborn son.
And NBC execs insist they're truly sorry to see her go.
Now, it's all well and good that NBC is allowing Norville to exit with considerably more class than she entered. But do they really expect us to believe she jumped and wasn't pushed?
These are people in the truth business - reporting on everyone else's truth, that is.
But it doesn't do much for NBC News' reputation for bringing us the facts when they're so good at twisting the truth about themselves.