Through the Years
By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (email@example.com), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.
"TODAY" HAD A lengthy reign as No. 1 until "Good Morning America" entered the morning scene and gave it some competition. By the late '70s, "Today" was getting beaten. In 1979, Steve Friedman became "Today's" executive producer and in about a year had the show earning about the same ratings as "GMA." In the summer of 1981, though, Tom Brokaw left his anchor position at "Today," and the show featured Bryant Gumbel, Jane Pauley and Chris Wallace in a three-way host system viewers didn't like. Meanwhile, in '81, CBS expanded its 7-to-8-a.m. program to 7:30 to 9 a.m.; paired Diane Sawyer with host Charles Kuralt, the first time it had gone with two anchors; and maintained its indifference to ratings, saying its "Morning" broadcast was hard news. Throughout the '80s, "Today" and "GMA" battled it out, with "Today" winning the latter part of the decade. At ABC, David Hartman called it quits in 1987 after more than 11 years as coanchor, and the network named Charles Gibson as Joan Lunden's new on-air partner. CBS tried various maneuvers: For example, in late 1984, former Miss America Phyllis George was named coanchor, only to leave the show less than eight months later. Maria Shriver became her replacement, teamed up with Forrest Sawyer.
In 1990, Jane Pauley left "Today," Deborah Norville stepped in, and ratings began to drop behind "Good Morning America." Norville didn't last long at NBC: She was replaced by Katie Couric in '91, marking the start of a comeback for the show. In 1994, the now-famous studio was constructed in Rockefeller Center. By '95, the Gumbel-Couric combo was consistently No. 1, and after Matt Lauer slid onto the couch to replace Gumbel in '97, the show stayed there.