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Willard Scott Weathers the Storm After Gumbel's 'Today' Memo

March 02, 1989|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — NBC weatherman Willard Scott indirectly joked on the "Today" show Wednesday about a Bryant Gumbel memo that sharply criticized him, but said off the air that the morning-show host's remarks had "cut like a knife."

"I feel so sorry that it happened," he added in an interview, referring to a published report Tuesday that disclosed Gumbel's 5-month-old memo, which had been intended as a private one for "Today" executive producer Marty Ryan.

Ironically, Scott said, off-camera problems he and Gumbel had last year had been resolved before the memo became public. Written last September in response to a request from Ryan for Gumbel's thoughts on the program, the memo criticized many aspects of the "Today" show, including Scott and several other on-air personalities.

Scott said he'd known for years that Gumbel "didn't think my act was much," but added that he and Gumbel actually had been getting along well for the last two months.

He acknowledged being stung by the criticism in Gumbel's memo, which charged that Scott holds the show hostage "to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays and bad taste."

"It cut like a knife," said Scott, who has been part of the "Today" show since March, 1980. Gumbel arrived in January, 1982.

Now, the normally jovial weatherman said, he fears that "almost nobody" will believe he and Gumbel actually have the rapport they show on the air.

"But there's nothing I can do. . . . We'll just have to wait and see what happens," he said. He said he hadn't talked with Gumbel about the matter.

Gumbel was on vacation this week and not available for comment, a network spokesman said.

Whatever Scott's private hurt, it wasn't apparent on Wednesday's broadcast, save for joking allusions to the memo and the furor over it.

Those were delivered with his hearty, rapid-fire manner, as was his salute during the two-hour program to a total of five female viewers who had reached 100 years of age or older.

Early in the broadcast, in alluding to the Gumbel memo, he noted that "March in some places is coming in like a lamb . . . but in other places, it's coming in like a lion, like at 30 Rock." He meant NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza here.

Scott also quipped that "my audition tape is out," and later held up a copy of Wednesday's USA Today newspaper--but didn't say that it contained an essay by TV critic Monica Collins that praised him.

The uproar over the disclosure of Gumbel's memo seemed to affect co-anchor Jane Pauley briefly on Wednesday's show.

Scott, discussing an upcoming segment on life-saving dogs, asked her: "What if the dog comes up and grabs you by the arm and takes you over to CBS?"

"I won't fight it," she replied off-handedly.

But in an interview after the show, she said her remark was only in jest. "There's no significance to it. There's less there than meets the ear."

Pauley, who didn't come in for criticism from Gumbel, readily admitted that "some people are hurt" by the memo, which NBC News President Michael Gartner on Tuesday said was "ancient history" that someone had stolen from Gumbel's office computer.

"But I think feelings can be mended, and after a while we'll be all right," Pauley said. "But it's not a pretty thing."

Those looking for a possible on-air discussion of the matter by Scott and Gumbel when the latter returns to work Monday will have to wait.

A "Today" spokesman said that Scott is taking a week's vacation--planned well before this week's events--next week. Al Roker, weatherman for NBC-owned WNBC-TV here, will fill in for Scott.

When Scott returns from vacation on March 13, he will do the "Today" weather reports from Washington, the spokesman said. Not until the next day, March 14, will the two be in the studio together for the first time since the memo's publication.

Steve Friedman, who was executive producer of "Today" until last June, said Wednesday of Gumbel's memo: "I'm more apt to agree (with NBC) that it's history. . . . The only thing I would say is that when they put the computer system into NBC, I never got one and never used it.

"And now I know why."

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