Stephen Battaglio's handsome retrospective "From Yesterday to TODAY" takes a look back some of the highlights, pivotal moments, dramatic events and behind-the-scenes magic that has made TODAY America's favorite morning show for six decades. Here is executive producer Jim Bell's introduction.
“Well here we are and a good morning to you. The very first good morning of what I hope and suspect will be a great many good mornings . . .”
—Dave Garroway, January 14, 1952
NEARLY TWENTY-TWO THOUSAND MORNINGS later, we can safely say that Mr. Garroway’s hopes and suspicions have been confirmed. But the success of Today was hardly a sure thing. Before Today went on the air sixty years ago, morning TV was little more than test patterns. Literally, test patterns. Breakfast was a time reserved for radio. Most executives didn’t believe that viewers could eat their breakfast, get dressed, and watch TV all at the same time. They didn’t believe people could sometimes listen to TV rather than watch every frame.
But Pat Weaver, the NBC executive who created the Today show (as well as creating his daughter Sigourney) believed America was ready for, as he put it, “a revolt in their living rooms over eggs and bacon.” The early re views didn’t entirely agree with him. A “morning news show” struck many as odd in 1952. The New York Times described it as “the latest plan for electronic bondage dreamed up by the National Broadcasting Company” and mentioned skeptics who said the show was “pretentious and in some cases pointless.” Another critic told NBC to “roll over and go back to sleep.”
The Today show, of course, prevailed over its harsher critics and today the broadcast that Pat Weaver and Dave Garroway started is not only a resounding and proven success, it’s also essentially the same program it was sixty years ago. No degree of cultural change or technological tumult has altered Garroway’s founding ideas that the show would “put you in touch more closely with the world we live in . . . in all fields of human endeavor” . . . so that the viewer would “know where you’re going and what the world is like that you are going into.”
From Yesterday to Today will bring you into our world. It represents the most ambitious and comprehensive effort to date at documenting the history of the broadcast. It should prove fascinating to viewers and non-viewers alike. Irrespective of one’s morning TV habits, Today’s place in television history and American culture—as the closest thing we have to a national hearth—is secure. Today is where generations of Americans have begun their day, where the conversation begins, where viewpoints are stated, where news is made. It was also, of course, the first morning news show, and the first to have a woman and an African American as hosts. It invented television staples like the outdoor “plaza” studio and summer concerts, as well as signature annual events like “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” and “Today Throws a Wedding.”
For a book this ambitious, perhaps the biggest challenge has been deciding what to omit. Any compendium of Today would run the gamut of the last six decades’ most significant events. Recently, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we re-watched how Matt, Katie, and another Today alum, Tom (no last names needed), took America through those initial hours that had no precedent. It was a reminder of how Today, perhaps more than any other broadcast, has been where history happens.
Today has fifteen presidential elections and inaugurations under its belt, spanning the administrations of Presidents Truman to Obama. There have been two royal weddings, countless trips to virtually every corner of the planet. There have been hurricanes, fires, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes. And there have been, of course, the interviews. So many landmark and groundbreaking interviews. The Today show was where Hillary Clinton went when she decried that “vast right wing conspiracy.” It was where Tom Cruise argued with Matt about “the history of psychiatry.” It was where Katie grilled Bob Dole about whether cigarettes were addictive. And where the parents of the Columbine victims sat down with Katie for what became a national moment of grieving.
America has watched the Today show family grow and change as well. Jane Pauley and Katie had their babies. Katie tragically lost her husband to cancer and took the extraordinary step, as she honored his memory, of submitting to a colonoscopy on TV. We saw Matt get married and have three kids. And we saw Meredith Vieira make the tough decision, for family reasons, to step down from the anchor chair. The live good-bye to Meredith from the Today show staff has gone down as one of television’s fondest and most heartfelt farewells.
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People watch Today at the most vulnerable time of day. They’re busy, sometimes they’re stressed, and they don’t have time to channel surf. Morning viewers make a choice and stick with it as they go about their morning rituals—making coffee, serving breakfast, packing lunchboxes, and looking for shoes. They choose Today because it informs and entertains them. And they choose it because it’s family. A family of on-camera hosts who are genuine, curious, and authentic people. And a remarkable family, behind the camera, of production and engineering staff who decade after decade have pulled off television magic every morning.
Other television programs come and go. Today is now entering its seventh decade—remarkable longevity for a broadcast. And even more remarkable, it’s just as vibrant, relevant, and exciting as it was when Dave Garroway and a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs were bidding the country good morning. We hope you enjoy the memories.
—Jim Bell, Executive Producer
Excerpt reprinted with permission from FROM YESTERDAY TO TODAY © 2011 by Stephen Battaglio, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive