Still, his enthusiasm often gets the better of him, and the purple prose, strangely dated analogies (the Today-GMA rivalry is like 1971’s Ali-Frazier fight) and fondness For Capitalizing For Emphasis overwhelm the story.
Stelter conducted about 350 interviews, but many details and quotes have been reported in the Times and elsewhere, including by THR.
The book mostly skims the surface, never penetrating its characters’ inner motives. Major screen players are underdeveloped (Al Roker is nearly invisible) or generic (Bell is hard-charging). Curry is a fascinating enigma: vulnerable, fragile, never seemingly in control of her destiny. Guthrie is cast as a cheery newcomer on whom everyone has a crush.
Lauer hovers over it all, influencing everything (a great aside has him calling into the afternoon rundown to berate producers about running too many tabloid stories). His skill at deflecting responsibility is exemplified by his response to the decision to name Curry co-host: “Yes, but.”
Stelter depicts Lauer’s main goal to be to shift blame for Today’s ratings decline to others.
The book suffers in comparison to The Late Shift, Bill Carter’s classic account of the race to succeed Johnny Carson. Lauer and Curry seem bland in comparison to Leno (who famously hid in a closet to spy on NBC executives) and his volatile manager Helen Kushnick.
Stelter struggles with the big picture, failing to weave many examples of morning-show sexism (Curry blames the NBC boys’ club for her fall, Stelter jokes the number one rule of morning is protect the blond queen) into a coherent analysis.
Equally disappointing is his inability to grapple with the how the profound changes of the internet and social media are reshaping viewers relationship with the morning shows.
He flirts with this idea in detailing the rise of Morning Joe (the book's most intriguing section), though falls back on framing it simply as a personality story centered on Joe Scarborough and Mika Brezinski.
Near the end Stelter quotes Pat Fili-Krushel, who became NBC News president in 2012, "People wake up with their smartphones, that's their alarm so when you are presenting the Today show we have to keep that in mind."
Its a pity Stelter's love of gossip gets in the way of grappling with that profound shift.
Top of the Morning feels like an MSG-laden meal at a Chinese restaurant: temporarily filling but ultimately unsatisfying.