Bob Costas, NBC’s perennial Olympics host, will step aside from the network’s prime-time telecasts for the first time since 1988 on Tuesday night because of an eye infection that shocked viewers during the Opening Ceremony and has grown progressively worse.
Matt Lauer will replace Costas, who now appears to be having a problem with both eyes. Costas announced that he was ending his Ripken-like streak, which began in Seoul, on the “Today” show, telling Lauer that the infection, believed to be pink eye, is “even worse than when you saw me this morning, Sochi time. So, reluctantly, I was trying to throw a complete game here, but I think we’re going to have to go to the bullpen. I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but you’re Mariano Rivera, at least tonight.”
Lauer will work a double shift, doing morning-show duties and replacing, as he joked to Costas, “the master of Olympic primetime.” Just how long Costas will be on the disabled list is not yet certain.
“Let’s hope it’s only tonight because right now I’m walking around and might as well be playing Marco Polo. I have no idea where I am.”
When he first appeared on Friday night, Costas was wearing glasses and his left eye was obviously irritated. His assistant told Deadspin over the weekend that he “has some sort of infection which has his left eye completely red and almost completely closed, making it impossible to put a contact lens in it. It just came on within the last 24 hours, the NBC doctors in Sochi are treating it, and they think it should resolve itself by the weekend. Until then, he has no choice but to go with the glasses on air.”
With no improvement, the buzz about “what’s wrong with Costas’s eye” increased across social media and spawned all sorts of horror-show memes. On Monday night, he joked about treating the condition by downing a shot of vodka with Mary Carillo on the air.
“I’m not really that much of a vodka guy, I’m looking at it this way, though—my eyes can’t get any redder no matter what I do,” he said (via Guyism.com). “All right? Down the hatch!”
Costas’ streak of 157 consecutive prime-time Olympic telecasts is a remarkable one. “I just feel bad for him,” Lauer told Today.com. “He looks forward to these Games for so long, and he’s the best that’s ever done it. If he could be in that seat, he’d be in that seat.”
Costas offered a little bit of advice for Lauer: “Just remember, Tatyana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. There’s your Russian dancing pair. After that, you’re on your own.”
Now, Lauer will step into NBC’s Fortress of Solitude-esque studio and, he joked to Costas, “I will be doing the shots of vodka, starting in 15 minutes.”
In a statement issued through NBC, Costas said: “As a practical matter, I simply couldn’t do my job because my eyes had become so blurry, watery and sensitive to light. I’m hopeful the symptoms will improve in the next couple of days and I can return to the broadcast. Also, the last thing I want is to go through the rest of my life owing Matt Lauer a bunch of favors.”