"Today" (often referred to as "the Today show") is NBC's morning news/information/entertainment show. It is the second longest-running television show in the United States, having premiered on January 14, 1952.
The general format has remained the same: each half hour begins with a newscast, then a weather report, and then there are several interview, demonstration, or performance segments before NBC affiliates are allowed to fill the last five minutes of the half hour with local news.
On weekdays, the show begins at 7:00 in every time zone, and therefore, the hosts don't have to use the "past the hour" copout when giving a time check. If necessary due to breaking news, the tape-delayed version seen in the West will be replaced in whole or in part with a new live version. The Saturday and Sunday broadcasts, which premiered in 1992 and 1987, respectively, vary in their start times depending on the whims of the local affiliate.
The weekday show was two hours long until it was expanded to three hours in the fall of 2000; the Saturday show has always lasted two hours; the Sunday show was initially 90 minutes, but was cut back to an hour in 1992.
When "Today" began, the host was Dave Garroway, who is always described as "genial" no matter what. "Today" was originally broadcast from an RCA electronics showroom in New York with a large glass window, and people soon showed up early in the morning not only to watch the broadcast through the glass, but also to hold up cardboard signs in an attempt to get their message on TV (usually, it was "Hello (name of city)!") At one point, even ex-President Harry Truman showed up on the street outside the window.
However, "Today" first became popular because of a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs who made frequent appearances for no good reason. Garroway never liked him, but the children in the viewing audience did, so J. Fred stayed around for years, until all the kids started watching "Captain Kangaroo" on CBS.
When J. Fred left, and the window was removed in 1958, the show became somewhat more serious. Garroway left the show in 1961, briefly replaced by John Chancellor, and then by Hugh Downs. Meanwhile, a succession of "Today Girls" had been making regular appearances since 1954, doing the weather reports and sponsorship announcements; Florence Henderson, Betsy Palmer, and Maureen O'Sullivan were among them. In 1964, the producers dropped the "Today Girl" title and eventually promoted Barbara Walters to full-fledged co-host.
Downs left the show in 1971, and Walters shared hosting duties with Frank McGee, then Jim Hartz. After she was hired away by ABC in 1976, she was replaced by a young blond reporter named Jane Pauley, and Hartz was replaced by Tom Brokaw.
Bryant Gumbel began on "Today" as a sports reporter, and was promoted to co-host in 1982, when Brokaw left to anchor "NBC Nightly News."
In 1989, a young blond reporter named Deborah Norville took over as the newscaster, and rumors began to fly that NBC was attempting to force Pauley to leave the show so the younger Norville could co-host. Pauley did step down voluntarily, she claimed, to host and report for "Dateline NBC," and Norville did take over as co-host, but ratings fell.
Norville went on maternity leave in 1991 and never came back. The new co-host was Katie Couric, who proved to be popular with viewers.
In 1994, "Today" moved to a new street level studio with large windows, across the street from the rest of NBC. That private street inside Rockefeller Plaza could easily be blocked off to make room for all the gawkers holding signs; musical performances were now done outdoors, along with the weather reports, during which the weatherman usually talked to several of the people in the crowd. Sometimes the hosts would move outdoors, especially for the closing half hour of the show. Eventually, the competing morning programs on ABC and CBS both built similar studios where crowds could gather outside.
Bryant Gumbel left in 1997, replaced by Matt Lauer, who instantly clicked with both Couric and the viewers. "Today's" ratings soon went to new heights.
The only two long-term weathermen in the show's history have been Willard Scott and Al Roker, both jovial, rotund, bald men. Scott began appearing in 1980, and soon began delivering birthday wishes to viewers who were 100 or over, or had been married 75 years or more. Scott wore a toupee when doing his reports from the New York studio, but by the early 1990s, he was appearing live from Washington, D.C. more and more often, where he didn't wear the toupee. Occasionally filling in for Scott was the show's actual meteorologist, Joe Witte, who usually read the show's sponsorship announcements despite not having a good voice for reading copy.
Al Roker gradually took over for Scott beginning in 1995, until Scott was eventually only appearing from Washington every Tuesday and Thursday with his birthday and anniversary announcements.
Among the notable regulars over the years were Jack Lescoulie, quiz show winner Charles Van Doren, critic Cleveland Amory, Joe Garagiola, consumer reporter Betty Furness, film critic Gene Shalit, medical reporter Dr. Art Ulene, and, only on the weekend versions, "Gadget Guru" Andy Pargh.