Though it's been more than eight months since co-anchor Ann Curry tearfully told "Today" viewers that she was being pushed off the show’s couch, her co-host Matt Lauer's reputation is still being battered from the incident, thanks to the widely-held belief that he was to blame for her departure.
Combine that with “Today” still falling behind rival infotainment show “Good Morning America,” along with NBC News president Steve Capus announcing his resignation last month — it’s time for Lauer to give an sympathy-seeking, exclusive interview to the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz, saying it really most sincerely was not his fault that Curry lost the gig.
“I don’t think the show and the network handled the transition well. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that,” Lauer told Kurtz. “It clearly did not help us. We were seen as a family, and we didn’t handle a family matter well.”
Sure enough, viewers have still not warmed up to Curry's replacement, Savannah Guthrie. Plus, “GMA" recently announced it won the February sweep in total viewers for the first time in 19 years, averaging 5.7 million viewers to "Today's" 4.8 million.
Anyway, in Monday’s interview, Lauer claimed that not only was the Curry situation not his fault, but he was against the plan from the beginning. Kurtz, via Lauer, detailed the painstaking process last year in which NBC News realized that there was zero chemistry between Lauer and Curry, and decided that the best way to save the show's falling ratings was to ditch Curry.
Kurtz writes that Lauer told Capus that replacing Curry was “a terrible idea," and it could “destabilize the show.” In fact, Lauer even semi-defended Curry by saying that the show staffers could “produce their way around her strengths and weaknesses.”
However, the NBC execs ignored Lauer's warnings, and told him "the decision was above his pay grade,” Kurtz reports.
And we all saw how that saga played out: Curry, on the verge of weeping on the morning show last June, telling viewers that this was not how she expected to leave the show after 15 years, and that, “I’m sorry I couldn’t carry the ball over the finish line, but, man, I did try.”
Cue the outrage from viewers and media, convinced that Lauer simply couldn't stand Curry. But this is the second round of NBC execs stepping in to defend Lauer, saying he’s not to blame for Curry’s departure.
“Matt, I need to say for the record, really should not bear any of the blame for that,” former “Today” exec producer Jim Bell told the Hollywood Reporter last fall. “I’m the executive producer of the show. He’s not. He’s the public face of the show, so he’s taken some of this. But it has been wrong.”