For the first time since Ann Curry's "Today" show ousting in June, Matt Lauer fully opened up to The Daily Beast 's Howard Kurtz about how the NBC demotion actually went down and why he isn't to blame.
While Lauer admits Curry wasn't his first choice as a co-anchor following Meredith Vieira's exit in 2011, he says he gave it his all — to the point that NBC brass told the two to "stop faking" their morning banter.
But before Curry even made it to the couch, turns out Lauer had made a move to try and get his former co-anchor, Katie Couric, back to the now-struggling morning show in hopes of improving both moral and ratings.
For almost ten years, Lauer and Couric ruled the ratings together with their very real chemistry.
And six years after Couric left "Today" to anchor "CBS Evening News," Lauer wanted her back — but NBC didn't warm up to the logistics that would require the hire.
At the outset, though, Lauer would have preferred to anchor with someone else. Before Curry was formally promoted to co-host in 2011, Lauer quietly reached out to an old friend. He asked Katie Couric if she would be willing to return to Today, where they had ruled the time period for nearly a decade.
Couric was receptive to the idea. She was shopping a syndicated show, and she and Lauer were talking about doing the show together. Their plan was to sell the daytime program to NBC and feature Couric on Today during the year and a half until the show could get on the air and Lauer would be contractually free to join her. Couric could be a Today co-host, perhaps as part of a troika with Curry, who had already been offered the job. NBC executives debated the plan, but Burke rejected it after concluding that the syndicated show would be too expensive to produce. Couric teamed up with ABC instead.
Today, Katie has a reported $40-million contract hosting a self-titled daily talk show on ABC.
Lauer, meanwhile, has taken a ton of heat for the way he handled the departure of Ann Curry — causing ratings to also decline and "Today" to fall from its top spot for the first time in 16 years.
“I don’t think the show and the network handled the transition well," Lauer tells Kurtz. "You don’t have to be Einstein to know that."
But, he adds, “In some ways being No. 2 [behind "GMA"] in the ratings is a real shot in the arm, a kick in the pants. It makes you hungrier ... I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a fire lit under your ass.”
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