The announcement that Hoda Kotb’s temporary job as replacement the Today show host following the firing of longtime host Matt Lauer will hopefully shatter some of the myths that have continued to plague both network and local television.
First is the myth that viewers will not watch a news show with two female hosts. Not only has the combination of Kotb and Savannah Guthrie maintained the Lauer-Guthrie audience, but the ratings have increased.
That climb began immediately after Lauer, who had been the host for 20 years, was sent packing after sexual misconduct allegations. Today has topped the Nielsen ratings in each of the four weeks since Lauer’s firing, the first time it has held the lead for that long since August 2016, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Maybe the message is finally getting across that two women can carry a news show as well as two men — or to put it more succinctly, the combination that mostly male network and local television news bosses have pushed over the years — the need to have an authoritative older male and the cute, perky younger female is a fantasy of older male bosses and not a reality.
The combination of two females has certainly done no harm to Today’s competitor CBS This Morning, which also lost an older, authoritative male anchor, Charlie Rose, to sexual misconduct allegations.
Rose’s former co-anchors, Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King, have kept the Nielsen ratings steady without missing a beat, and perhaps the CBS show is an even better test of how well women can do anchoring a news program.
While Today is a mixture of news and much lighter entertainment and lifestyle information, the CBS program has a more laser-like focus on hard news. Rose, 75, added gravitas to the program, but it certainly has not lacked that quality since his departure.
What has been especially gratifying is the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the beginning to Kotb replacing Lauer and to CBS This Morning minus Rose. Not only have viewers approved, but it does not seem to be something that has anyone alarmed because it is different from what they have seen in the past.
Network television has always played the same game in the morning as local television does with all of its newscasts — hiring reassuring older men and attractive, exuberant young females — on the morning programs, while for far too many years, the evening news programs were strictly a white male preserve.
Though it took decades, the evening news gender barriers were broken, first by Barbara Walters, who co-anchored ABC’s evening news with Harry Reasoner in the ’70s, and later by Connie Chung, Katie Couric, and perhaps most successfully, Diane Sawyer.
Now the tides of change are sweeping across morning news programming. While it should not be taken as a sign that the doors are closed to male hosts (Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos does not need to start looking for another job), nor should they be, it hopefully will send a message that the people who are chosen for these positions are the ones who are the most qualified to hold them.