Lynette Rice
June 29, 2012 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. That could describe NBC’s upcoming Olympics coverage — or the ongoing morning-show ratings wars. As ABC’s Good Morning America continues to nip at the heels of Today, news broke last week that NBC was looking to replace Ann Curry, the show’s longtime reporter who took over as cohost a year ago with the departure of Meredith Vieira. At press time, the network had yet to officially announce if and when Curry, 55, would be on her way out. But it’s clear that all is not well with TV’s No. 1 morning show — which has as much to do with Curry’s polarizing style (man, is that woman earnest!) as it does the overall health of NBC. Though the Peacock showed a slight improvement over the previous year, it still finished the 2011–12 season in fourth place among viewers (averaging an anemic 7.4 million) while tying ABC for third place in adults 18–49 (2.5 rating/7 share). It seems the network’s infamous struggle in prime time — it hasn’t launched a breakout scripted hit since The Office in 2005 — has started to chip away at the once-dominant Today show. Season to date, it’s down 4 percent to 5.3 million, while ABC’s Good Morning America is up 4 percent to 4.9 million. (GMA even beat Today four out of the past 12 weeks.) And while a change in anchors may be just what Today needs to keep GMA at bay, the surrounding scrutiny and speculation — coming just as the network begins its Olympics push — isn’t exactly ideal. ”It’s unfortunate two things converged at the same time,” admits Bill Carroll, director of programming for the Katz Television Group, a media buyer. ”NBC is being aggressively challenged in the ratings just as they have this opportunity with the Olympics.” But the London Games (kicking off July 27) may end up throwing a much-needed life preserver to both the network and Today, which plans to broadcast from the U.K. beginning July 26. The two weeks of coverage are expected to keep NBC comfortably in the winner’s circle for the months of July and August, and they’ll also offer a high-profile platform to promote promising new fall series like Animal Practice, a single-camera comedy about a people-hating veterinarian, and Go On, a clever sitcom about a widower played by Matthew Perry. ”It just brings so many people to the network who might not otherwise be there,” says Len Fogge, NBC Entertainment’s president of marketing. ”It’s a big audience, especially during the summer, which allows us to get beyond our normal NBC on-air reach.” Naturally, the competition remains skeptical that the Summer Games can cure all of NBC’s ills. ”They promise great things every time the Olympics come on,” says one high-powered suit at a rival network. ”They get a terrific audience for two weeks. But as a promotional vehicle, that power is wildly overestimated.” (NBC touted Knight Rider and My Own Worst Enemy during the 2008 Beijing Games, to no avail.) No matter what, London does give Today the perfect stage to introduce a new cohost for Matt Lauer. (Despite a rumor that Vieira has been approached, Savannah Guthrie — who coanchors Today at 9 a.m. — is the most obvious choice for a replacement.) ”If I were contemplating a significant change on Today, the time to do it is before the Olympics,” says Carroll. ”NBC has nothing but a potential upside. They’re not going to do any worse.”

(Additional reporting by James Hibberd)

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