Public perception toward Today’s Matt Lauer has suffered since the very public ouster of Ann Curry – and there is speculation that his days at NBC are numbered once his $25 million contract expires next year – but a news exec told the New York Times Thursday that NBC would like the 55-year-old anchor “to be in the chair as long as he would like to be.”
“We are aware of all the ridiculous rumors and gossip,” Alex Wallace, the NBC News executive in charge of Today, said. “We would like Matt Lauer to be in the chair as long as he would like to be. We hope that’s for many years to come.”
Wallace’s comments come in the wake of Lauer’s decision to go public for the first time about Curry’s departure from NBC last summer. He told the Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz that “I don’t think the show and the network handled the transition well. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that. It clearly did not help us. We were seen as a family, and we didn’t handle a family matter well.” But Curry was not his first choice; Kurtz reported that Lauer had quietly approached Katie Couric about returning to the morning show that made her a household name.
The question is whether the Curry kerfuffle – and subsequent ill-will toward Lauer – are to blame for Today’s fall from ratings grace. Good Morning America is now the king of morning TV – season to date, it’s up 3% to a 1.7 rating in adults 25-54 and 8% in viewers (5.3 million) while Today is down 21% in the demo (1.6) and 14% in viewers (4.6 million), according to Nielsen. But there are plenty who believe NBC’s declines have as much, if not more, to do with the show’s change in style than any viewer love loss toward Lauer.
“Today’s ratings woes had little to do with Ann Curry and way more to do with its shift toward an emphasis on softer news, celebrity gossip and plugging their cable properties,” veteran media expert Shari Ann Brill tells EW. But, she adds, “The backlash in the aftermath of Ann’s public ouster continues to plague the show. GMA was able to overtake Today and stay that way, because the team comes across as being nicer, especially with the sensitive way the show and ABC handled Robin Roberts illness.”
One interesting solution that Today may be looking at, according to the NYT, is to add another player to the team, making it less about Lauer and more about the ensemble – much like what is happening with great success over at ABC.