Is it the curse of Today or are there more earthly factors at work? In Australia one of the major stories of the past couple of years in local TV is how the Nine Network’s Today show has been overtaken by the Seven’s upstart Sunrise program to the point where Sunrise now thrashes its older competitor on many mornings. Sunrise has even expanded to Sunday mornings in a so-called weekend edition which follows the American model.

But in an eerie case of the US following Australian trend, the venerable Today show on NBC is also being stalked – by the venerable Good Morning America on the ABC network. The latest US ratings show that Today’s lead over GMA has halved, from 1.3 million viewers each morning to around 660,000. Five years ago Today held a two million viewer lead on average five mornings a week. On Monday and Tuesday of last week GMA actually beat Today , but then the normal pattern revealed itself.

On present trends GMA could very well move past Today in the next two years. And there’s an interesting factor at work here. ABC has that ratings mega hit Desperate Housewives on Monday nights. GMA’s audiences on Tuesdays in particular are often higher than other mornings. The reason apparently is that people leave the TV tuned to the ABC channel when they go to bed after watching housewives, and then turn it on in the morning. That’s the theory anyway.

For NBC that’s not good news. Today hosts, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, are close to TV royalty in the US. So far this US ratings season which starts in early autum and ends in the (northern spring), Today has been averaging a touch over 6 million viewers and GMA 5.36 million. But there’s one further, very large problem for NBC. Today is its most profitable show and the man behind its success, Jeff Zucker, is now head of NBC. So there’s a lot riding on what’s happening each morning on American TV.

Peter Fray

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