'Top of the Morning': great word-of-mouth, but not such good reviews

Brian Stelter's exposé on TV's morning news shows has gotten lots of publicity.

'Top of the Morning' hit bookstores today.

There's been plenty of talk about “Top of the Morning,” journalist Brian Stelter's inside look at TV's morning news shows. But when it comes to book critics, not all of the words have been kind. 

“Top of the Morning,” which hit bookshelves today, aims to examine the “cutthroat world of morning TV,” according to the book’s subtitle. Grand Central, the book's publisher, calls the exposé “a gripping look at the most competitive time slot in television, complete with Machiavellian booking wars and manic behavior by the producers, executives, and stars."

The book is released following the firing of “Today” co-host Ann Curry by NBC. It also details “Good Morning America”’s attempt to defeat “Today” in the ratings struggle as well as “GMA”’s Robin Roberts’ battle with MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome).

Stelter is a New York Times reporter, but even the NYT  wasn’t enamored of the book, with reviewer Ed Bark complaining that it “ends up being like a breakfast made not quite to order” and saying that the book has “more than a little overblown prose, some of it just plain silly.” Bark does suggest, however, that Stelter is “just 27, so there’s ample time really to get the hang of this.”

Bark also notes that both “Today” anchor Matt Lauer and Curry declined to be interviewed, which necessarily limits the access to the story of Curry’s departure.

Entertainment Weekly reviewer Henry Goldblatt also found the lack of direct quotes from Lauer and Curry disappointing, opining that while the book's jacket compares “Top of the Morning” to writer Bill Carter’s books about TV, including “The Late Shift,” there's a big difference between the work of Stelter and that of Carter.

“In Carter’s books, you get the sense that the author was in the room when big decisions were made,” Goldblatt wrote. “In Stelter’s debut, you get the sense that he was staring at his smartphone.”

In addition, Goldblatt found Stelter’s prose distasteful, writing of his “Hemingwayesque sentences (in length, not substance), hackneyed analogies (Today is Coke! Good Morning America is Pepsi!), and antipathy for the medium he covers.” Stelter “seems to have a vendetta against Lauer,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Hollywood Reporter writer Andy Lewis said the book “flops.”

“Stelter is at his best when he lets the story carry itself, offering a fly-on-the-wall view of key moments (including the drama of Curry’s last day),” Lewis wrote. “Still, his enthusiasm often gets the better of him, and the purple prose, strangely dated analogies (the Today-GMA rivalry is like 1971’s Ali-Frazier fight) and fondness For Capitalizing For Emphasis overwhelm the story.”

Lewis was also displeased that the book’s hype presented some of the details inside as Stelter’s own.

“Stelter conducted about 350 interviews, but many details and quotes have been reported in the Times and elsewhere, including by THR,” he wrote.

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