Why is NBC’s “Today Show” building houses in midtown Manhattan for people who live in Louisiana and Mississippi?

Because if they built the houses in the places where the houses’ future residents actually live, there could be no Humanity Plaza right outside the “Today” studio at Rockefeller Center. In a footrace with logic and logistics, self-promotion wins every time. (We still want to know how these houses are going to get themselves across the George Washington Bridge, down the Jersey Turnpike and thence to the Gulf Coast area).

Yes, “Today” is partnering with a worthy organization (Habitat for Humanity) to do something significant for some of the people left homeless by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. (It’s the least one segment of a multi-billion dollar company could do.)

In the process, alas, NBC is also subjecting “Today Show” viewers to painful self-celebratory horn-tooting every morning this week. See Katie Couric hammering a nail into a beam! See her interview Bob Wright, Vice Chairman of GE, NBC’s parent company, about all the good they’re all doing! Worse, see her subjecting some of the future homeowners to cringe-worthy interviews right there on Humanity Plaza!

And that, it turns out, is the price of these free houses: the recipients must make good TV in return. That can take a lot of coaching and prodding, especially when some of the recipients are under the age of ten.

Yesterday, Couric spent several excruciating moments encouraging two young sisters, Kayla and Jada, who had just been awarded a new home, to “dance.” Finally, during a commercial break, the younger sister began to groove and, when back on-air, Couric, Matt Lauer and Al Roker could not contain their delight … until she danced too long. Have a look:

Lauer: We’re back at 8:00 on this Tuesday morning … Kayla and Jada — now, that’s what I’m talking about, that’s what we were looking for with a little more time — here doing some dancing. I guess they’re dancing for joy …

Couric: Yes, they are.

Lauer: … here on Humanity Plaza this morning.

Couric: How cute are they? Kayla and Jada.

Roker: Give it up for Kayla and Jada!

[Audience cheers]

Couric: They’re very happy, because not only do they have a new house — right, girls? — but you also have new beds, SpongeBob bedspreads …You have Dora, the Explorer tennis rackets. [See our earlier post on product placement.]

Lauer: Sporting goods.

Couric: Clothes …

Roker: She’s not stopping.

Couric: She’s got the music in her. She cannot stop. And there’s Lilly and Courtney, and obviously it’s been a bit of an overwhelming day. That’s all right. You can hit me while you’re moving, while you shake your groove thing, girl. Anyway …

Lauer: All right, Jada and Kayla thank you very much. We appreciate it. You were great. That’s fantastic.

Couric: Yeah, you did a terrific job. This one will not stop. She’s like a jumping bean. All right, go see your mama and Courtney.

Roker: Right over there.

Couric: All right, thanks girls.

Personally, we preferred it when this same bit of real estate in Rockefeller Center was “Democracy Plaza.” That was before it became Shill Plaza.

Liz Cox Barrett

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.