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The stories behind how the 'Today' show lost No. 1

Wednesday - 4/24/2013, 4:56pm  ET

aplauer.jpg
In this photo released by NBC, ''Today'' show co-hosts Ann Curry and Matt Lauer appear on the ''Today'' show, Thursday, June 9, 2011, in New York. Thursday was Ann's first day replacing Meredith Vieira as co-anchor of the show. (AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)

What changed the tide of morning show ratings

Brian Stelter, New York Times media reporter

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WASHINGTON - After 16 years at the top, NBC's "Today" show fell to second place in the ratings and many viewers are not surprised. But a new book shares what went on behind the scenes.

Brian Stelter covers the media for the New York Times. In his new book, "Top of the Morning," Stelter explains how the firing of "Today" show anchor Ann Curry caused a change in the morning show tide.

Stelter says Curry's fate has always been tied to "Today" anchor Matt Lauer's.

"When Matt Lauer decided to renew his contract, that's when NBC was pretty convinced they should remove Ann Curry from the show ... But Matt doesn't shoulder all the blame himself. The real culprits are the executives behind the scenes, but unfortunately viewers never knew their names so they took it all out on Matt Lauer," Stelter said on WTOP Wednesday.

Beyond Curry's firing, Stelter says at least two other factors were at play.

The "Today" show has been winning for so long, that they'd forgotten how to lose. And that's a problem in any company," Stelter says.

Not only did "Today" get too comfortable, Stelter says, its rival "Good Morning America" was primed and ready to capture its disenchanted viewers.

"I think GMA figured out how to stop being the 'Today' show. It had to be its own thing. GMA was more fun. It was more lighthearted, definitely more entertainment- driven than the 'Today' show and more importantly -- it was ready to take an opportunity that was given by the 'Today' show," Stelter says.

GMA anchor Robin Roberts' battle with cancer only helped new viewers feel closer to their new anchor team, Stelter says.

"It was also a bonding experience for the anchors and the viewers. It reminds me of any family going through a trauma -- people start coming over with casseroles and pot roasts. You're trying to help out the family in a time of need," Stelter says.

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