Studio 1A was a very unhappy -- and unfriendly -- place for Ann Curry in her final, embattled year at the TODAY Show. Media reporter Brian Stelter sheds surprising new light on Curry's infamously messy June 2012 exit from the NBC morning show in his book Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV, excerpted Thursday online in the New York Times Magazine. (Curry, 56, started with TODAY back in 1997, but ascended to the co-anchor chair in June 2011 after Meredith Vieira's voluntary exit.)
"A lot of time in the control room was spent making fun of Ann's outfit choices or just generally messing with her," one staff person told Stelter. According to the same staffer, back in spring 2012, employees openly mocked Curry's bright yellow dress worn during one broadcast -- photoshopping a picture of Big Bird next to Curry, asking the team to vote, "Who Wore it Best?" The Us Weekly-inspired joke was posted in the control room.
Even the show's executive producer, Jim Bell, supposedly took to teasing Curry. Stelter reports that Bell "commissioned a blooper reel of Curry's worst on-air mistakes." Another unnamed producer claimed that Bell once called staff members into his office to show a mistake Curry made while talking on-air with a local station. (Bell denied both incidents.) Prior to Curry's teary June 2012 send-off, several boxes of her personal belongings went missing from her office and "ended up in a coat closet, as if she had already been booted off the premises," Stelter writes.
Indeed, sources told Stelter that Bell, concerned about the show's ratings and Curry's iffy chemistry with co-anchor Matt Lauer, personally concocted a plan to remove Curry from the show and replace her with Savannah Guthrie. The plan, one source told Stelter, was called "Operation Bambi," after one colleague likened firing Curry to "killing Bambi." (Bell also denied using the term "Operation Bambi.")
Since her on-air exit, Curry has been "lying low" at her family home in New Canaan, Conn., sometimes waking "before dawn as if she were about to go on air," Stelter writes. "Some mornings, she cried as she read e-mail and Twitter messages from fans."
And Curry remains "profoundly hurt and humiliated" by her dismissal and the taunts of show producers and colleagues. "She told friends that her final months were a form of professional torture," Stelter writes.