Out next Tuesday, Al Roker's new book The Morning Show Murders is, as you would expect, squeaky-clean when it comes to giving us any dirt on his Today show cohorts. But there is at least one telling bit that may allude to a former competitor: Ben Lyons, the film critic whose ill-fated stint on the show At the Movies (where he replaced cancer-afflicted Roger Ebert) earned him widespread scorn. The young Lyons competed in a time slot against his own father, Jeffrey Lyons, host of NBC's Reel Talk. The latter show ended up being driven to cancellation (though At the Movies jettisoned Ben shortly after). Ebert was a Pulitzer Prize–winning critic who wrote for decades at the Chicago Sun-Times. Previously, Lyons was a blogger and on-camera personality for E!
We don't know what Roker's motives are, but that sounds awfully familiar to this bit of the book, a galley of which we just read:
“Chuck Slater was Wake Up, America!’s new film and television critic. Barely in his twenties, Chuck had gained fame as an Internet blogger and host of the popular Web site Flickpick.com. He was an arrogant, impatient young movie nut, either overly effusive in his reviews or devastatingly brutal. Quite the opposite of our former entertainment critic, George Miles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning twenty-year veteran of The Washington Post, whose critiques were thoughtful and informed. Unfortunately, all that experience meant nothing to management except that George was getting on in years. Which in turn meant that he had to be out of touch with our audience. Unlike Mr. Slater.”
Of course, the book included a disclaimer that it's a work of complete fiction. "Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously," an intro reads. "Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental."
Also enlightening are the descriptions Roker offers up of his protagonist, chef Billy Blessing, Al's seeming alter ego. First of all, he works on a morning show, so, duh. And Billy’s a chef, while Al’s a foodie (he’s written two cookbooks, Al Roker's Big Bad Book of Barbecue and Al Roker's Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook). "Viewers tell me that I remind them of a stocky Eddie Murphy, minus the mustache, the honking laugh, and the leather pants," Roker writes, in the voice of Blessing. "I prefer to think of myself as a more accessible, less intense version of Denzel Washington." Aw, Al! We liked this part, too: "[Viewers] also assume, because our producer, Arnie Epps, has instructed me to keep a smile on my face whenever I’m on camera, that I'm always cheery. I'm not."
Of course not, Al. You wrote a book called Morning Show Murders!