“Today” Show: A Morning News Pioneer

Original host of NBC's "Today," Dave Garroway with J. Fred Muggs, left, and Muggs' "girlfriend" Phoebe B. Beebe.
Original host of NBC’s “Today,” Dave Garroway with J. Fred Muggs, left, and Muggs’ “girlfriend” Phoebe B. Beebe. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the 64th anniversary of NBC’s “Today” show.

Here are some things you may not have known about “Today” and the morning news shows that followed.

The show was created by NBC vice president Pat Weaver, who is the father of actress Sigourney Weaver. One of the proposed names for the show was “The Rise and Shine Revue.” It was never designed as a hard-news show. It has featured interviews, lifestyle stories and other light news from its beginning. The first host of “Today” was Dave Garroway, who was noted for his easygoing style and his one-word sign-off of “Peace.”

Early on the ratings for the show were disappointing, leading producers to make a curious addition to the on-air staff: A chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs. Muggs originally appeared on a television series hosted by singer Perry Como. Weaver saw the chimp and decided to add him to the “Today” lineup. Muggs last appeared regularly on the show in 1957. It’s believed that the chimp is still alive at the age of 63 and living in Florida, which sounds like a joke but isn’t.

Starting in 1958, “Today” was taped the previous afternoon, which ended when John Chancellor replaced Dave Garroway in 1961.

Hosts of the show over the years have included a who’s-who of American television journalists including Hugh Downs, Barbara Walters, Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric.

In 1975, ABC introduced “Good Morning America” to compete with “Today.” “Today” remained atop the ratings until the late 1980s when “Good Morning America”  started winning the ratings battle. “Today” regained the top spot in 1995 and held it until 2012, when it was passed by its ABC rival.

Our question, “Today” is the fifth-longest running show that is still in production in American television history, which program has run the longest?

Today is National Flag Day in the country of Georgia, National Forest Conservation Day in Thailand and Old New Year, according to the Julian calendar. It’s National Dress Up Your Pet Day, National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day and Organize Your Home Day. It’s the birthday of traitor Benedict Arnold, musician Allen Toussaint, and actress Faye Dunaway.

Now a look back on entertainment charts of 35 years ago.

In 1981, the top song in the U.S. was “(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon; the No. 1 movie was “9 to 5” and “The Covenant” by James A. Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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