Friday was Savannah Guthrie’s last day as co-host of The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. As she moves to her new gig co-hosting the third hour of NBC’s Today Show, here’s hoping she gets a much better position. Literally.
Although she’s been a stronger presence than the often flat Chuck Todd, Guthrie was physically positioned as his helpmate: he’d face straight forward, while she sat in a three-quarter profile, often leaning in from the side, as if she were trying to squeeze into the picture. Their postures said it all—she was an appendage to the main man, a vine to his trunk.
The Chuvannah tableau was a variation of the stereotypical male-plus-female pose that people often strike for photos: the woman turns her head to gaze at the guy while he manfully looks into the camera, setting his sights far beyond mere domesticity.
Of course, Guthrie never gazed into Todd’s eyes, and her role on the show was anything but ancillary. An attorney and now Today’s chief legal analyst, Guthrie was the sharper and more aggressive interviewer, often putting questions right past Todd, holding their subjects’ feet to the fire, pinning down Trump on abortion here or nailing Bachmann on her falsehoods there. Chuck, meanwhile, often seemed to be diligently checking off a list of questions.
And so having her sidle up to him at their desk seemed a very odd throwback. Even Fox News’s female hosts face forward or sit equally angled with the guys.
But except when Guthrie hosted solo, she’s had to assume the sidekick position, placing herself just so every weekday morning since Rundown debuted seventeen months ago.
Since talk show seating arrangements are meticulously designed, you have to wonder whether MSNBC producers put Guthrie in a physically secondary position in the same way they’ve put Mika Brzezinski in a verbally secondary position on Morning Joe, where she tries to squeeze into the conversation dominated by Joe and the boys.
Maybe having Brzezinski talk less than Scarborough was meant in some twisted way to justify paying her less than Joe—fourteen times less!—and less than the male regulars, even though it’s Mika, and not Mike Barnicle or Willie Geist, who’s billed and heavily promoted as Joe’s co-host. She almost left the show over the pay disparity, as she writes in her new book Knowing Your Value, but she says the problem has since been fixed.
Did the Daily Rundown create Guthrie’s Lean Forward From the Side angle to justify paying Todd more, and is that one reason she shifted horizontally to the Today Show?
I have absolutely no idea what either of them have been paid, or if money was a key factor in her departure. I’m just sayin,’ as Chuck would say.
At least as likely an explanation is that the producers thought the solid but stolid Todd needed to appear more like The Man. If Guthrie came in sideways, he’d look like the center. Remember, he once played an ancillary role himself. He was the cool geeky guy that the anchors—stronger personalities like Brian Williams, Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann—would rely on to interpret polls, give dimension to stats, explain Congressional districts and generally grind through the information that was too emotionally inert to merit their attention. His passion was to dispassionately reveal the telling detail.
Todd was actually fun to watch in that role, because he was often able to tease out meanings others overlooked. In fact, he was so popular—with his own fan club yet—that NBC promoted him to chief White House correspondent and then to a show of his—and Guthrie’s—own. But the promotion has changed him from someone who calmly analyzed politics at the granular level to someone who tries to kick up a little dust, straining to achieve the emotional range needed to keep viewers’ attention for a full hour. (Not to mention that the network severely overworks the guy.)
Maybe Todd will continue Rundown without a partner, and maybe he’ll grow into the space, even absorbing some of Guthrie’s livelier, more unpredictable spirit.
But if they do give Chuck another female co-host, let’s hope they’re both allowed to Face Forward.