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New 'Today' EP: 'We All Hate Being No. 2'

After 23 years at Today, Don Nash will take the reins of the NBC morning show on Monday from outgoing executive producer Jim Bell, and Nash knows he has his work cut out for him. After a messy anchor transition from Ann Curry to Savannah Guthrie this summer, Today has taken a hit in the press and the ratings, where ABC's Good Morning America now wins consistently among total viewers and the key adults demo. Nash spoke with B&C programming editor Andrea Morabito about what needs to change to get Today back to No. 1. An edited transcript follows.

What are your first priorities for Today as executive producer?

We have a great team in place on the air and off the air. I don't think the show is broken; I really don't. We've hit a couple of rough spots in the past few months, but I still think at its core it's a great show. Part of its success over the past 60 years has been that we've always looked to innovate and change and take risks and try things, things that sometimes fail. I really want to continue that tradition. Beyond that, I think you'll see in the coming months some cosmetic changes.

In terms of the set and things like that?

In terms of the look. But I'm not out here to reinvent the wheel. I think at its core it's a very functional show, but as has been the case since the beginning, it needs to adapt, it needs to change with the times

What could Today be doing better than it is right now?

We've taken our share of hits over the past few months, and I think some people walked away as a result. And one of my top priorities is just to get people reacquainted with the show and who we are and the team we have in place on the air. [The viewers] are starting to come back, as you've seen in the ratings. They are starting to see how strong this team is. I think a lot of that got lost in the clouds of some issues we had in recent months.

You're referring to Matt Lauer, who has taken a lot of the blame for Today's fall in the ratings. Even though that blame may be unfairly placed, how can the show repair that relationship with viewers?

Absolutely, Matt is the most maligned person. I think you try to ignore that noise, and you stay focused and you believe in yourself and you emphasize their personalities. I think you'll see a little more looseness in the broadcast in the coming weeks. You'll see more opportunities for our anchors to show their personalities and to interact with each other

How do you feel about the chemistry among your current hosts?

I feel like there's an awesome chemistry between all seven of our anchors. I think this is a group that genuinely likes to be around each other, and we all have the same goal in mind, which is just to do a great show every morning. It is among the most functional onair teams I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of different teams come and go on this show, but this group is clicking like I've never seen a group click before, and I truly mean that. And I think, unfortunately, a lot of that is getting lost in some of the snarky press that we're reading about.

Last year, when Good Morning America was still No. 2, ABC News president Ben Sherwood was not shy about the fact that his top priority was beating Today. How important are the ratings to you? How important is regaining your No. 1 spot?

What's important to me is just doing a show that we're proud of every day, and I'm confident that viewers will come. Do I want to win? Absolutely. This isn't a good fit for us, we don't like to be No. 2. But we're going to have to work hard to get that back and we all recognize that.

Has that been motivating to the staff?

It has. One thing I've got to say I'm most proud of with this staff is, they haven't let this bumpy period get them down. We all hate being No. 2. And I don't know a single person out there that isn't fighting as hard as they can to help get this show back to its rightful place.

The criticism is the morning shows in general have gone soft on news. Do you think Today needs to refocus on hard news? Are you happy with the current balance?

I really want to take a long, hard look at the balance, and that's the key word there is just balance. I love hard news but I'm not afraid to do a good story about Hollywood and that's been the case since the day I started. What I like to provide viewers with every morning is a great kit to start their day. So they know what happened overnight and they are going to be able to have an intelligent conversation about whatever people are talking about at the office, the play dates, the drop-off, at their kid's school.

You've been at Today for 23 years. Did you always aspire to hold the job of executive producer?

I've long looked at that job as one of the greatest jobs in television and I always thought I'd be honored to have it someday. With that said, I've enjoyed every step along the way at this show. From the moment I got the job as a PA out in Burbank, I was pinching myself thinking I can't believe I'm working for this respected morning institution. And as I've made my way up through the ranks, I've loved every minute of it.

Today is now going to have an executive producer-you-and an executive in charge. Explain how the partnership with you and Alex Wallace will work.

I think it will work really well. Alex and I have a good relationship. The show has always had executives overseeing it, so there's nothing all that new about the dynamic. I will be running the show day-to-day. She will be the person I report to. She will be sort of be keeping an eye on the bigger picture, long-term issues in conjunction with me. She and I have established a really healthy working relationship, started [during NBC's Olympics coverage], and I think she knows her role and I think I know mine.

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