A diversion in the air for 'Today'
Storm clouds build in the distance beyond tornado-ravaged homes Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Moore, Okla. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
NEW YORK (AP) — Two charter airplanes carrying the "Today" show anchor team and their crew from Hawaii to Yellowstone National Park were diverted in the air to Oklahoma for coverage Tuesday of the catastrophic tornado outside of Oklahoma City.
Television networks rushed their big names to the scene, including anchors Brian Williams of NBC's "Nightly News" and Scott Pelley of the "CBS Evening News." Both broadcasts were expanded on Tuesday to cover the story, as was ABC's "World News," with Diane Sawyer remaining in New York.
Similarly, Shepard Smith of Fox News Channel, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC led cable news teams on the story. MSNBC's "Morning Joe" broadcast from Moore, Okla.
For "Today," in the unaccustomed position of fighting back from the No. 2 spot against ABC's "Good Morning America," it marked the third time in recent months that news disrupted special broadcast plans. Savannah Guthrie's interview with President Barack Obama was overlooked because it happened only hours before the Boston Marathon explosion. And Matt Lauer was in Texas on the day Boston was shut down for the marathon suspect manhunt.
The Oklahoma tornado came in the midst of the NBC show's "Great American Adventure" road trip, which had the team scheduled to visit five places in five days. They made one, Monday on the beach at Waikiki, and were headed to Yellowstone when executive producer Don Nash was reached in the air and told about the tornado.
"A lot of time and effort went into the Yellowstone visit," he said. "But, ultimately, we are first and foremost a news program and this was a big news story. In the end, it was an easy choice."
The planes with Lauer, Guthrie, Natalie Morales, Al Roker and Willie Geist were instead sent further east.
It's likely that the third visit of the week, to Chicago, will also be cancelled, Nash said. He's playing it by ear for Thursday's trip to Orlando, Fla., but said "Today" is determined to keep Friday's plans to check on recovery progress from Superstorm Sandy at the New Jersey shore as the summer beach season begins.
"It's the right show to do on a week like this," Nash said.
While "Good Morning America" did not send its hosts to Oklahoma, weather reporter Sam Champion was well-positioned. He had traveled to Kansas on Sunday to be in place when there were forecasts of severe weather.
"CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell traveled to Oklahoma to anchor that network's extended coverage Tuesday morning.