Despite my vehement hatred toward the programming decisions that NBC has made over the past few years, I am a diehard Today Show fan and a Matt Lauer enthusiast. Therefore, I have been taken aback by the swirl of rumors going on around my favorite morning show host. I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to ignore them; they keep getting shoved in my face, off screen and on.
In case you don't know, The Today Show is a hot mess. After Ann Curry's tumultuous yet necessary boot from the show, what was once the highest-rated morning show for several decades has slipped. The bitter ratings rivalry between The Today Show and ABC's Good Morning America has been going on for years. Once Curry took over when Meredith Vieira retired, the once and future a.m. king, NBC, started having some issues. It got worse by the day, and so somebody decided that Curry needed to go. And then it got even worse! During Curry's tenure, the show lost half a million viewers, and it seems it has never gotten them back. Good Morning America is now the top-rated morning show.
In a detailed article for New York Magazine this past week, author Joe Hagan relives each awkward step that the Today Show staff and Lauer took toward their current predicament. The article doesn't paint Lauer in the best light. Although he denies being the cause of Curry's dismissal, the article frames him as a culprit and says that his overlordly personality is not appreciated by the NBC staff. It also mentions that The Today Show is trying to add some new elements to give Lauer less in-your-face screen time and make the mood of the set more uplifting. So it's trying to look like a bunch of co-workers who actually like each other and want to be there?
I don't know if it's working.
On April 1, the jovial bunch did a lighthearted segment about April Fools' pranks. A guy dressed up as a chair grabbed unsuspecting "sitters" and that was the big joke. As they replayed the same clip of Natalie Morales being more or less felt up by whoever was dressed in cushions, co-host Savannah Guthrie remarked that it was Lauer hiding in the cushions.
"No, I wasn't. And thanks, Savannah," Lauer said.
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It was a quick moment, but a pissed-off-sounding one. Obviously, Lauer is trying to keep up a good public image, and perhaps punking co-workers is not the one he's trying to project. Or maybe it had something to do with the rumors that Lauer and Morales had been inappropriate together off-camera (if you know what I mean).
This is just one example of the visible tension that can be seen as of late on the show. It's getting uncomfortable to watch. Lauer has been taking a number of off-site assignments as well as days off, and when he is not there, it's kind of nice, despite being really girly. But I miss him when he's gone!
I would like to stand with Lauer. I genuinely like him as a newscaster, and apropos of nothing, I feel like he's a nice guy. So the dude didn't like Ann Curry; neither did I. The media is turning Curry's layoff into martyrdom, constantly reminding us how shitty it was that she was fired. But the fact of the matter is that she was a very bad co-host. This isn't Fun Fair Positive Soccer, where everyone wins; it's a business that relies on viewership and ratings. If the current vibe of TTS is uncomfortable, let us not forget the sheer pain it was to watch Curry sit at the anchor desk. She was off-putting, too intense and overemotional; people are getting dressed and eating cereal, and they want to watch fluff with some pretend news. Curry was over-the-top for the time slot, which is not to say that she isn't an excellent journalist. She is, but she's also crazy-eyed (and oftentimes crazy-sweatered).
It's been rumored that Lauer will go sooner rather than later and that he will be replaced by perhaps someone younger like Willie Geist or more famous like Anderson Cooper. I hope this all gets worked out soon because if not, The Today Show will be yet another NBC staple that the peacock will have let go to shit. And I like Matt Lauer.