The fallout continues over the firing of former ESPN producer Jamie Horowitz from The Today Show, in what is becoming one of the more bizarre stories of the year.
Horowitz, the man credited in building First Take into the unstoppable monster it is today, was fired just days before he officially started his job as senior vice president and general manager of the Today brand. More details are starting to leak out about what really went down, and boy, do they sound like the work of a man who was making very different television than what the people of Today are likely used to. It sounds like Horowitz wanted to remake the program in his former work’s image.
According to an excellent, entertaining story from Brian Stelter of CNN, Horowitz wanted to fire anchors Natalie Morales and Willie Geist:
Morales and another co-host of the third hour of “Today,” Willie Geist, were particularly concerned by Horowitz, according to several of the people with knowledge of their interactions.
Maybe the co-hosts thought their positions were at risk, or maybe they thought Horowitz was doing damage to the iconic morning show.
Whatever the reasons, the co-hosts’ concerns reached Turness and other NBC executives. And the tensions spilled into public view, most provocatively through a New York Post gossip column item that said Morales was planning an exit amid a “power struggle” with Hall.
Some people close to the situation concluded that Horowitz was a source for the story — a notion that Horowitz’s supporters disputed.
Geist and Morales were also the subject of firing rumors after Horowitz’s departure, but the rumors were denied by NBC, and they appear to be keeping their jobs.
Meanwhile, both CNN and the Post are reporting that Today on-air overlord Matt Lauer (in support of his fellow anchors) wanted Horowitz gone over his desire to fire Morales and Geist:
An NBC source said: “Savannah, Natalie and Willie Geist heard about the plan and talked to Matt, who went to Turness and told her, ‘I want to keep these people,’ so she fired Jamie. Once again, Matt Lauer calls the shots at ‘Today.’ The idea of bringing Jamie in was to bring change to the show to help beat ‘GMA,’ but how can you fix it if nobody can make any changes?”
Of course, the tone of the Post’s report kind of ignores the well-reported facts that Horowitz had managed to alienate everyone on the show for a chance to take down the consistent tabloid fodder that is Matt Lauer, but I digress.
Horowitz, according to The Wrap, wanted to replace Morales with former ESPN colleague Josh Elliott, who’d moved to NBC just months ago. In the end, as the CNN story reports, it appears that there were just no lengths Horowitz wouldn’t go to “alienate” people on the show:
One executive put it this way: he was “doing the right thing the wrong way.”
(Others disputed the “right thing” part, claiming that his ideas and his approach were both wrong.)
One thing is clear: Horowitz was a disruptive force within NBC. Another person who met with him likened him to a “hand grenade” thrown inside the “Today” show office space.
When Horowitz criticized some of the co-hosts, he wasn’t discreet about it — so words of his complaints quickly came back around to his subjects.
Sadly (at least in a perverse way), it appears we won’t see the First Take-ification of Today. Nor will we get to read Horowitz’s manifesto, though I’d be shocked if it never somehow found its way on the internet. This has quickly developed into one of the most bizarre stories of the year in media.