In June of 2012, a tearful Ann Curry revealed that she was leaving the Today show. The decision to exit clearly hadn’t been Curry’s own to make: “For all of you that saw me as a groundbreaker, I’m sorry I couldn’t carry the ball over the finish line — but man I did try,” she told viewers as colleagues Matt Lauer, Al Roker, and Natalie Morales lent moral support.
To some, that support didn’t seem quite supportive enough — especially in Lauer’s case. Many viewers placed responsibility for Curry’s awkward ousting and the show’s dwindling ratings squarely on Lauer’s shoulders. Even Al Roker apparently played the blame game; in August, he made a quip about NBC anchors throwing each other “under the bus” that seemed aimed in Lauer’s direction. (NBC maintained that the joke had nothing to do with Curry.)
According to an interview with Lauer on The Daily Beast, things got so bad at one point that he told NBC Universal chief executive Steve Burke that he’d “get out of the way” if Burke thought Today would be better off without him. Burke brushed off Lauer’s offer, calling him “the best person who’s ever done this” — but even so, Lauer evidently still has some residual guilt over the Curry fiasco.
“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 the Beast‘s Howard Kurtz. “It clearly did not help us. We were seen as a family, and we didn’t handle a family matter well.”
He also admitted that initially — before Curry was even promoted on Today — he was in favor of bringing on board a different co-anchor: Katie Couric, who was leaning towards returning to Today until her syndicated talk show got off the ground. At that point, Lauer would join her on that show, which the pair would sell to NBC.
That plan never came to fruition; Burke decided it would be too expensive. So Lauer stuck around and instead welcomed Curry, a Today vet, to the anchor’s desk. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven. Early last year, according to the Beast, he learned that NBC’s execs were planning to replace Curry whether or not he stayed on the show. Though Lauer acknowledged privately that he and Curry didn’t have great chemistry, he tried to tell NBC that forcing Curry out would be “a disaster waiting to happen.” His bosses disagreed, believing that Curry’s premature departure would quickly blow over, especially if they presented the exit as Curry’s own idea.
The gist of the article, though, is that Lauer himself did his best to help Curry through a bum situation. He met with his co-anchor individually and advised her on how to look out for herself; he told NBC’s brass that Curry should be slowly phased out, in order to minimize the disruption. In the end, though, Lauer’s counsel was ignored… and we all know how that turned out.
For even more dirt, check out Kurtz’s full piece at The Daily Beast.