Why Even Nora Ephron's Death Couldn't Save Ann Curry

You shouldn’t have to be an aging woman to write copy that appeals to women (or men) over 40, but it sure seems to help. Over the last three decades, Nora Ephron -- who died last month at 71 -- wrote screenplays that became iconic representations of Boomer life, and in so doing made many billions of dollars for the film studios that hired her. Given this nearly unmatched record of success, you might think that media companies would have begun hiring older women for all kinds of jobs, from writing more screenplays to communicating more directly with the many viewers who value an older person’s experience and humor. 

Well ... think again.

At the same time that the media world praised Ephron -- and praised itself for appreciating an older woman -- it also fired another aging woman, Ann Curry, from the “Today” show for ... well, for representing the kind of worldview we liked when it came from Nora Ephron. Why was it so easy to reward Ephron but so hard to reward Curry? 

While not officially a Boomer herself (she was born in 1941), Ephron’s most popular works captured the aging Boomers’ fascination with politics (“Silkwood”), relationships (“When Harry Met Sally”), marriage (“Sleepless in Seattle”), divorce (“Heartburn”), and food (“Julie & Julia”). Movie studios don’t readily admit how much money they’ve made from Boomers, but they rewarded Nora Ephron for bringing it in.

So did her female peers. In the days following her death, the Boomer women we follow praised Ephron for “making my life better with your words, films [and] creativity.” One member, a writer like Ephron, told the story of the more famous author sending her flowers. 

At 55, Ann Curry is 16 years younger than Ephron but smack in the middle of the Boomer bubble. After serving as the “Today” show’s news anchor for 14 years, she co-hosted the show with Matt Lauer, for the last year. Yet, when the show ran into ratings problems, NBC decided to fire only Curry and leave Lauer (himself 54) in place. In a move that looks more like an awkward second marriage than a professional reassignment, Lauer will now be joined by Savannah Guthrie, age 40.

Boomer women, many of whom have been on the receiving end of similar decisions, did not agree with NBC’s decision. One of our members called the decision “a disgusting choice. Ann was the classiest part of ‘Today.’” On our site and our Facebook page, women have defended Ann Curry as a peer and offered her support for a future with new chapters of success.

So what does all of this have to do with marketing to Boomers?

In the contrast between Ephron and Curry, I was struck by a perpetual debate among marketers who are increasingly comfortable with a message inspired by a Boomer perspective but remain stubbornly uncomfortable with putting “real” Boomers in front of viewers, readers, or subscribers. 

Are they right? Will the many generations who embraced the wit and experience of Nora Ephron be turned off by the face of someone who has earned that experience herself? 

There are some exceptions. MAC cosmetics, for one, is using the face of 91-year-old Iris Apfel to attract customers of all ages -- and that’s great. But what we still don’t see is advertisers using the faces of real 50-something men and women to reflect more accurately the world we all live in. If Boomer insights are good enough for us, why aren’t Boomer faces?

I think that media companies and advertisers would be making smart business decisions if they let Boomers seen as well as heard. 

What do you think? 

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11 comments about "Why Even Nora Ephron's Death Couldn't Save Ann Curry ".
  1. Joshua Iverson from iMediaSalesTeam , July 9, 2012 at 9:40 a.m.
    Love Ann Curry! She was the best part of the morning show and had been even with Katie -- but I'm not sure boomer women (other than a few who recognize the issue) really care...doesn't most of the data show that boomers have 'forever young' mentality anyway?
  2. Anne-marie Kovacs from Boombox Network , July 9, 2012 at 10:11 a.m.
    Thank you Stephen for this piece. I echo the sentiment as a boomer who hardly ever recognizes herself in the media anywhere. Boomers are making more noise about this "discrimination" now that we've grown older en masse. Perhaps marketers will understand soon?
  3. Henry Harteveldt from Atmosphere Research Group , July 9, 2012 at 10:37 a.m.
    As a Boomer male, I don't really care who is delivering news to me, so long as the news is that -- news -- and the person delivering it is intelligent and credible. IMO, Ms. Curry certainly met that criteria. Mind you, I'm talking about news, not marketing. Again IMO, the challenges the "Today" show faces have less to do with Ms. Curry (or any key on-air talent) than with its content. "Today's" content has become pretty much useless drivel -- more entertainment and fluff than useful news. I suspect that the ratings gains at ABC and CBS are driven as much by content and format as on-air talent.
  4. Lynn Kanzer from Healthcare Solutions , July 9, 2012 at 10:39 a.m.
    I totally agree with this article. While I'm just past the "boomer" age (67) I can relate. I look at some of these commercials and say "sure that product does her wonders, she's 25 years old". Some 8 years ago I was fired from a company that I had worked at for over 17 years (and was a successful contributor), by a new young supervisor who clearly wanted a younger person in my position. While I sued for age discrimination, and won, it hurt to be tossed because I was getting older.
  5. Lela Cocoros from Lelaco, Ltd. , July 9, 2012 at 11:36 a.m.
    As a Boomer woman I completely agree that there's a definite lack of appropriate representation of us in the media. I also very much like and respect Ann Curry. However, she lost her Today Show job because she didn't have the chemistry with Matt Lauer, and that adversely affected the ratings. Remember that Curry replaced Meredith Viera - also a Boomer in her 50s who left voluntarily and who it was rumored was asked to come back before Guthrie was offered the job. If Viera hadn't left in the first place, I don't think they would have messed with the lineup - unless or until the ratings started to slip. Then it's fair game for making changes, and yes, while it's a bummer, younger people generally get the gig. But even they won't stay unless the numbers are strong.
  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 9, 2012 at 12:02 p.m.
    George Stephanopolis who is in line for the evening news gig after Diane Sawyer. That's what happened to Today. The producers needed a scape goat and Ann Curry got the boot instead of stepping up their product. Let's watch what happens when Al Roker's contract is up. He is the glue who is holding the show together although not promoted as such.
  7. Lisa Kaneff from Beaconfire Consulting , July 9, 2012 at 5:37 p.m.
    I think this is ridiculous. Not one other account of the Curry firing has mentioned her age - it mentions the fact that she is bad at her job, which I completely, 100% agree with. This was a strange, strange piece.
  8. Timothy Mcmahon from McMahon Marketing LLC , July 9, 2012 at 5:44 p.m.
    Referring to the "media world" as if it is some unique individual is, at best, misguided journalism. Further, comparing Nora Ephron's body of work with Ann Curry is additional evidence of logic fallacy. Should I compare the Today Show (4.6mm viewers) to Rush Limbaugh's 20mm+ listeners and draw the conclusion that people like Rush better than Today? Who are these "people"! We teach the college students to understand there is no "general audience" and then you muck it up with this sort of reporting. Ann Curry was a pretty good reporter (a bit emotionally over-the-top for me) and a pretty dismal fit (chemistry-wise) with Lauer who treated her more like his 2nd grade teacher than his morning partner. She's getting a $5mm kiss good bye, but she is not leaving ... simply going back to what she probably liked doing best all along ... reporting on global events. I applaud your effort to draw a parallel ... but an odd way to address the challenge of ensemble casting. I still enjoy the posts, however, keep it up. TIM MCMAHON
  9. Ruth J Clark from Fashion Moves Inclusive Designs , July 9, 2012 at 7 p.m.
    The age factor in this is undeniable, as are the aesthetics that go along with this. One of the contributing factors to this is the aesthetics of each of the on-camera personnel. For men of any age, they can wear a suit or shirt and dress trousers and be considered up to date and dressed appropriately. For women, this is a different issue. Most of the clothing today is made for people 20ish to 35ish. As women get over that age range it is difficult to find casual business clothing that is age appropriate and designed for middle age to older women. This is particularly difficult for women who are expected to wear something new every day and not repeat too often. Some women have a more difficult time finding a wardrobe and hair style that ages with them but is still professional and showcases their skills and abilities. The Garment Industry has got to wake up and recognize this subtle but important shift in the needs of this demographic. At Fashion Moves Inclusive Designs, we are working to encourage the Garment/Fashion Industry to recognize this demographic as a whole (not only on-air personalities) and to start to respond to their wishes and needs. Now, the next question is, why is there no one with a visible disability as a major host to one of these shows??? The clothing issue is even more pressing for this demographic. Ruth J Clark Fashion Moves 250-314-1849
  10. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age , July 11, 2012 at 4:26 p.m.
    Kudos to Stephen for taking on this touchy subject. However, I found the comments to his comparison piece as interesting as the piece itself. It's obvious the responses are subjective (as are my comments); however, I don't believe the removal of Ann Curry was an valid example of ageism on the part of Today Show producers. I suspect Henry Harteveldt’s comment “Today's" content has become pretty much useless drivel -- more entertainment and fluff than useful news. I suspect that the ratings gains at ABC and CBS are driven as much by content and format as on-air talent." points to the real reason for Ms. Curry's dismissal. The producers of Today have decided that fluff and drivel sells and Ann Curry doesn’t sell fluff and drivel very well.
  11. Kelly&Sally Jackson from The Midlife Gals , July 18, 2012 at 3:36 p.m.
    Since Marketers and advertisers tend to fall into the 'Young'uns' category, and probably haven't an ounce of extra skin anywhere, they visualize only their tribe as spokesmen/women and/or experts in any field. The Midlife Gals have had as our goal for many years, a notion that WE speak for boomers, being two sisters smack in the middle of this demographic. We are attractive, sophisticated and articulate...and even then, seemingly invisible to marketers. When the 'Young'uns' finally do discover that they can lift the skin on the top of a hand...and it stays there, only then will they look for peers to represent themselves...alas, they will discover that the 'young'uns' they used to be will find their own spokespersons. It's a vicious cycle...and hard to ride up hill!!