The reunion of golden-voiced homeless man Ted Williams and the mother he had not seen for ten years was delayed by behind-the-scenes network wrangling over who would film the event.
NBC and CBS were engaged in a fierce war over Williams, whose story has captivated people since a video of him using his smooth baritone while asking for money went viral earlier in the week. CBS had scored the first interview with Williams (via satellite Wednesday), but then NBC managed to get him on a flight from Ohio to New York so he could go on the "Today" show Thursday.
That's when the situation gets murky. CBS and NBC sources tell two different stories. CBS brought Williams' mother, Julia, who lives in Brooklyn, to the airport in New York to meet her son Wednesday night. According to the CBS account, NBC, wanting to protect its exclusive, snuck Williams off the plane and into a van before the reunion could happen. An NBC source told the New York Post's Page Six that CBS' version was not true. "We didn't know his mom was at the airport," the source said.
According to sources at both networks, the "Today" and "Early Show" teams attempted to work out a deal to bring Williams and his mother together Thursday morning, but negotiations stalled, delaying the family reunion. Further, NBC sources tell the Huffington Post, CBS refused to allow Williams to speak to his mother Thursday morning, when she was on "The Early Show" and he was on "Today."
"If the interview with Ted had only appeared on CBS, would anyone have even heard his story?" an NBC source sniped to Huffington Post. "If CBS really cared about reuniting Ted with his mother, they would have let her come to the 'Today' show immediately following her appearance on the 'Early Show' at 7:40 AM. Instead, they held her hostage at their studio, and wouldn't let her talk to her son on the phone as he repeatedly called CBS asking to speak to her."
In a statement to the Huffington Post late Thursday, a spokesperson for "The Early Show" blasted NBC's version of the story:
"All day long we have been trying to do the right thing for Ted Williams and his mother because we wanted to give them the privacy and respect they deserve. However we can no longer stay silent because NBC's account of what happened is a complete fabrication. When NBC learned of our intentions to bring Julia to the airport to meet her son they told us that they would not let them reunite even if it meant keeping Ted and Julia apart for days and that the reunion had to happen live on their show and that's exactly what they did. They snuck him off the plane into a van and away from the airport in order to avoid his mother. NBC is spreading malicious lies because they got scooped with Ted and they
got scooped with Julia. They should get over it."
A "Today" show spokesperson shot back, saying:
"While what CBS is claiming is completely untrue and ill-intended, we were thrilled to have Ted live on TODAY yesterday, and even more thrilled he was reunited with his mother. After all, that's what matters."
Williams and his mother could not reunite until later Thursday, when NBC and CBS agreed to film the event jointly and both air the reunion on their respective network morning shows. What's more, CBS claims, NBC violated the networks' agreement by releasing an online video of the reunion Thursday afternoon, earlier than they had agreed.
"The Early Show" may have been one step ahead of "Today" on the Williams story, but NBC as a network family seems to have won the booking war overall. Williams was a seemingly endless presence on the network Thursday, from his appearance on "Today" to his interviews on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and MSNBC's "The Last Word."
In addition, MSNBC hired Williams to do voiceovers for its "Lean Forward" campaign.
Watch CBS' video below: