In more fallout from Matt Lauer’s termination in disgrace six weeks ago, NBC News announced Wednesday that the Today show's longtime executive producer, Don Nash, an intimate Lauer ally, has been removed from his job and replaced by a woman.
Libby Leist, who joined NBC News as a Washington-based desk assistant 2001 and went on to become a respected and well-liked producer specializing in domestic politics and foreign policy, is the first woman in the program’s 66-year history to helm the first two hours of the iconic morning show.
“Libby brings tremendous talent and experience to this role,” NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said in a staff memo announcing the shakeup. “She has led the show’s political coverage and special events, including candidate town halls and Today’s historic broadcast from the White House.”
The ascension of Leist arguably represents a power shift at a network news division that has been plagued in recent weeks—and even today, with former Today anchor Ann Curry’s frank interview on CBS This Morning—by allegations of workplace sexual harassment and worse.
With Leist’s historic promotion from senior producer of Today’s 7 a.m. hour, all four hours of the profitable NBC franchise now boast women at the top as executive producers. What’s more, with Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, Megyn Kelly and Kathie Lee Gifford in front of the camera, the lead anchors of all four hours are also women.
The other women running Today are Jackie Levin, executive producer of Kelly’s 9.am. program, and Tammy Filler, executive producer of the wine-soaked 10 a.m. show featuring Kotb and Gifford.
“I think it’s about time,” said former CBS News and ABC News executive Betsy West, a professor at the Columbia Journalism School and the co-director of a documentary on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg premiering this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival. “Women have been the workhorses at these programs for so many years and haven’t often had the leadership positions.”
West added: “Maybe it’s emblematic of sea change, but the biggest change would be women in the executive suite. I’d like to see more women in positions of executive authority.”
Lack’s memo portrayed the abrupt departure of Nash, who has worked at NBC News for three decades, as Nash’s choice. But industry observers said his days at Today were numbered after the Lauer fiasco, given his closeness to the star anchor and questions concerning what, if anything, Nash knew about Lauer’s misconduct and when he knew it.
Two weeks before Lauer’s sacking, another intimate of the disgraced Today anchor, chief news division booker Matt Zimmerman, was axed for what NBC described as “inappropriate conduct with more than one woman at NBCU, which violated company policy.”
No such accusations have emerged concerning Nash, whom Lack described as “one of the best live control room producers in the business” in a glowing sendoff.
“I cannot thank Don enough for everything he contributed in nearly 30 years at Today—almost half of the show’s 66-year history,” Lack wrote. “He led the Today team through many transitions and got the show back to number one. He leaves with every aspect of the show on top and with a legacy he should be proud of.”
In a message to staff obtained by the New York Post, Nash wrote that he was leaving his high-pressure job for personal and family reasons: “The time has come for me to step away from Today and be a better dad to my two beautiful girls. They are what matter to me most.”
Nash’s future at NBC News unclear, although Lack wrote in his memo, “We’ve offered him a number of roles within NBC News and NBCUniversal, and we hope he’ll stay in the family”—a statement indicating that Nash successfully persuaded top NBC execs that he was neither aware of nor complicit in Lauer’s bad behavior.
Nash could not be reached for comment.
Leist has been a popular figure at NBC News, as well as with political operatives in various campaigns and on Capitol Hill, where she also worked as a producer.
“She is very well-liked. She’ll be great,” said an NBC News insider.
Leist toiled successfully as a State Department producer for Andrea Mitchell, a famously demanding boss, and went on to helm The Daily Rundown, a defunct weekday MSNBC program co-anchored by then-White House correspondents Chuck Todd, now moderator of Meet the Press, and Savannah Guthrie.
Guthrie, for one, was said to be “thrilled” by Leist’s promotion, which came as a surprise to some at the news division, although it is not unusual for changes in executive producers to follow changes in anchors, as has occurred at Today.