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Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
Today, the New York Times Magazine published an excerpt from New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter’s upcoming book, “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV” — a dishy, definitive account of the scandal that’s shrouded NBC’s “Today” show in controversy for the past year. What’s especially remarkable about Stelter’s account of the ousting of Ann Curry, in addition to the complex political web it examines, is how executives continued to politick, even as the secrets became exposed:
Jim Bell, former executive producer, denies endorsing these humiliating segments:
At one point, the executive producer, Jim Bell, commissioned a blooper reel of Curry’s worst on-air mistakes. Another time, according to a producer, Bell called staff members into his office to show a gaffe she made during a cross-talk with a local station. (Bell denies both incidents.)
Bell also denies creating a plan called “Operation Bambi” to fire Curry:
One morning-TV veteran suggested to him that firing Curry, who had been co-hosting for only about six months at that point, would be tantamount to “killing Bambi.” Undeterred, Bell hatched a careful three-part plan: 1.) persuade Lauer to extend his expiring contract; 2.) oust Curry; 3.) replace her with Savannah Guthrie. According to this source, Bell called his plan Operation Bambi.
Bell, a 6-foot-4 former Harvard lineman, was well liked by his staff. He was considered a straight shooter who would do anything for the sake of the show. (Bell denies using the term “Operation Bambi.”)
As the end of her tenure at the network neared, CEO Jeff Zucker met with Ann Curry — maybe:
Zucker, who was now on his way to being chief executive, told her that she could go, but that he genuinely wanted her to stay. Curry ultimately decided to wait for her next opportunity at the co-host chair. To protect herself, she had her agent add an “out” clause in her next contract, which allowed her to go to work for another network immediately if she was passed over again. (A source close to Curry denied that this meeting took place.)
When Curry fell into the role of “Today” show host, Lauer took a disliking to her, though he denies this particular incident happened:
Curry turned out to be out of her depth almost immediately. During her first morning as co-host, on June 9, 2011, she made a joke about not wearing deodorant that made Lauer look genuinely embarrassed. The strikes against her added up fast: her critics said she sounded disingenuous in interviews, had an annoying habit of whisper-talking to grieving guests and struggled to read from the teleprompter. One day early in her tenure, according to a longtime staff member, Lauer told a production assistant, “I can’t believe I am sitting next to this woman.” (Lauer, through a spokeswoman, denied saying this.)
Bell denies acknowledging that it was “a mistake” to bring Curry on:
Barely a month after she started, Bell confessed to a former colleague, “It was probably a mistake, but we just didn’t want to wake up and see Ann on another network.” (Bell later denied saying this.)
After Curry left the show, NBC put a woman named Pat Fili-Krushel in charge of restructuring the network and making the “Today” show work again. She put Bell in charge of the Olympics – -an account Bell disagrees with:
Fili-Krushel immediately homed in on what she believed were the problems. “It just hasn’t evolved,” she told associates about the show. She wanted to make the show move faster and make its set feel warmer and friendlier. She also wanted to replace its producer. About a month after the Olympics ended, Fili-Krushel met with Bell and told him that he had a choice. He could produce “Today” or he could produce future Olympics broadcasts, but he couldn’t do both. And if he wanted to keep “Today,” he needed to “do some soul searching,” Fili-Krushel told him, “to decide if you have the energy to evolve this show.” Bell held on for weeks, even while Fili-Krushel and Capus started to consider candidates for his job. Eventually he chose the Olympics. (Bell disputes this account. He says he chose to focus on the Olympics independently.)
Read the full excerpt here.
Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. More Prachi Gupta.
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
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With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.
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