Lindsay Lohan (Evan Agostini/AP)

NBC News’s Matt Lauer returned to “Today” show Thursday morning, minus the interview with Lindsay Lohan he flown to Los Angeles to land, and looking plenty peeved.

Look who’s back!” “Today” show sweetheart Ann Curry said at the top of the show – right after mentioning the overnight capture in Santa Monica, CA of a notorious mobster who’d been on the lam for nearly 20 years, and the evacuation of 11,000 from flooded regions of North Dakota -- but before mentioning plans for troop draw-down in Afghanistan as detailed by of President Obama in his address to the nation on Wednesday night.

“Yeah…back from a shoot that didn’t happen. We’ll have a bit more about that a little later on,” Matt said somberly.

After testing positive for alcohol right around the time she threw a barbeque during the house arrest she’s been sentenced to in the wake of her unending stream of DUIs, probation violations, and maybe necklace thefts -- she pleaded no contest on that one -- the Disney kid star turned tabloid darling is once again the Diamond-Spangled Unicorn of Infotainment Show Gets.

“Today” show could use one of those. Last week -- the first full week of The Ann Curry Era at “Today” -- only 626,000 viewers separated the show from ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

After landing this Super-Big Get, Matt flew to Los Angeles to sit down with La Lohan in her home. But LiLo 86’d the sit-down at the last minute. What caused her to do so is still a matter of some debate. One camp says Matt blindsided LiLo and her camp with word the interview would last longer than 15 minutes, to give him enough material for both “Today” and “Dateline.” Indeed, a “Today” rep told the press Lohan’s last-minute change of heart happened because she “wasn’t prepared to talk for more than 15 minutes.”

But another camp insists Lohan changed her mind after learning she’d failed the drug test -- would have been tough for even a thespian of Lohan’s stature to pull off a “turning my life around” performance with Matt after that.

Anyway, the top of Thursday’s show, Ann noted that LiLo may have once again violated terms of her probation, and was scheduled to be in front of a judge that very morning After an utterly adequate report on the story, sadly lacking the intimate little chat with Matt that would have made all the difference in the ratings, Matt put on his “of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been” face and began:

“By the way, some of you may have heard that I was actually with Lindsay on Tuesday afternoon at her home in Los Angeles. We were supposed to sit down for an interview to talk about her current situation and her plans for the future. At the last minute, Lindsay and her people did express concern about the timing of the interview and it was canceled. I think we’re learning more this morning about the reasons for their concerns.”

“Okay, well, let’s move on, shall we? Let’s talk about something else,” Ann suggested maternally to Matt.

And they did.

But, does this story sound naggingly familiar to you serious students of television?

If so, you’re probably thinking about two years back, when original “Survivor” champ Richard Hatch, finishing up his prison sentence for tax evasion on his “Survivor winnings” with home confinement, gave an exclusive interview to “Today” -- only the “Today” interview turned into an interview for “Today,” AND the NBC-owned celebrity suck-up-show “Access Hollywood,” AND the local NBC TV station -- which wound Hatch back in the hoosegow.

Authorities who gave Hatch permission to do the interview said they had been led to believe by NBC they were interviewing him for “Today” only. Hatch’s attorney said she thought the permission granted for the “Today” interview would extend to all NBC properties. But Federal Bureau of Prisons does not subscribe to this vertical integration notion, and sent Hatch to solitary because NBC had not secured permission for the interviews with the celebrity suck-up show or local station.

“Richard Hatch is back behind bars!” Lauer had said breathlessly on “Today” in August of ’09 the morning after successfully landing, conducting, and airing that interview.

“He was arrested just a couple of hours after we aired our exclusive interview,” Matt continued. “The question this morning, ‘Why?’ Was it something he did, or was it something said in that interview?”

Lohan, meanwhile, appeared in court today but did not get sent back to the Big House over the alcohol test, though she was ordered to knock off the parties during house arrest and instead confine her socializing to just one pal at a time, or family.

After which, she tweeted, “Thank you to all of my fans for your support. Sending you Love and Light.”

Which is probably no comfort to Matt.

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