News Column

NBC's 'Today' getting an orange makeover with 'hipster' look

September 12, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 12--At NBC's "Today," orange is the new black.

On Thursday, Deborah Turness, the new president of NBC News, and Don Nash, executive producer of "Today," previewed the morning program's redesigned set, which will be officially unveiled to viewers Monday.

The open-plan set, which took 30 days to construct, is the first redesign for the show in seven years and was in the works before Turness was named to replace Steve Capus as president. Highlights of the "hipster New York City apartment," as Nash described the environs, include a 360-degree rotating floor, a souped-up touch-screen weather map, and energy-efficient LED lighting.

Oh, and orange -- lots and lots of orange. The new couch is an orange arc reminiscent of the "Today" logo. Behind it hangs a flat-screen television that will display viewer-submitted photos of the sunrise from across the country. There's also a digital studio, appropriately dubbed the "Orange Room," where Carson Daly, who is joining the program, will interact with the "Today" audience via social media.

"This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful sets I've been involved with in television," Turness said.

The show's new weather map, designed with input from weatherman Al Roker, will feature a touch-screen and zoom-in capabilities reminiscent of a smartphone. "Our kids are growing up touching screens," he said. The animated map can also be used during election season as a display for political polls.

Cosmetic changes alone won't revitalize the once-dominant morning news show, which now trails rival ABC "Good Morning America" in viewers -- after the messy search for a co-host for Matt Lauer after Meredith Vieira left. First, Ann Curry was given the job, but after it became clear that the chemistry between her and Lauer was lacking, she was pushed out in favor of Savannah Guthrie.

However, the perception that Curry was treated poorly by Lauer and NBC hurt the show. Unlike evening news shows where an anchor is there to tell the audience what is happening in the world, morning shows try to create a family-like atmosphere.

Turness, who joined NBC News from Britain's ITV News, where she was editor, said she wants "Today" to be guided by three operating principles, "substance," "uplift" and "connection."

Since arriving at NBC several weeks ago, Turness has been spending much of her time on "Today." She's been in the control room most mornings analyzing the show and charting a strategy to return it to its former glory.

Part of that, people familiar with her thinking said, is for "Today" to reestablish a "human connection" with its audience while continuing to focus its efforts on hard news and "agenda-setting" stories.

Inside NBC, there is optimism that the show can get its mojo back. While "Good Morning America" has made gains, NBC executives note that less than 10% of the viewers who left "Today" went to its arch rival.

"They haven't married someone else; they are still out there," a Turness said.

Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint and Meredith Blake at @MeredithBlake

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(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times

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