NBC's Matt Lauer mess gets even murkier

Will the embattled 'Today' host get the boot? The network says no, but that isn't stopping rumors of candidates that could replace him.

By Jonathan Berr Mar 27, 2013 12:59PM
Matt Lauer, co-host of the NBC Updated 1:50 p.m. ET

Is Anderson Cooper going to replace the embattled Matt Lauer as the host of NBC's "Today" show? Who knows.

According to Deadline.com, the Comcast-owned (CMCSA) network wants the silver-haired broadcaster to replace Lauer "before the end of the year."

Then things get a little tricky. Lauer reportedly wasn't thrilled to learn that NBC was trying to replace him -- imagine that -- and contacted Cooper to "express his disapproval." Cooper, the host of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," was surprised by Lauer's reaction because he thought NBC would have checked with Lauer before approaching a potential replacement. 

NBC responded Wednesday by saying that it wants to keep Lauer on "Today" for years to come, according to the Associated Press. It's telling that the network didn't deny the Deadline.com story.

Confused? You aren't alone.

The gossip pages are chock full of potential replacements for Lauer, including Ryan Seacrest. Whether the hardest working man in broadcasting will make room in his already-busy schedule -- which includes "American Idol" -- remains to be seen.

"Meet the Press" host David Gregory and Willie Geist of "Morning Joe" fame, who's a co-host on "Today," have also surfaced in the who'll-replace-Lauer soap opera. Adding another twist to the plot, Deadline is reporting that Cooper and comic Kathy Griffin, who host CNN's New Year's Eve show, recently shot a pilot for the Time Warner (TWX) cable channel.

Lauer may be preparing an exit strategy. Deadline notes that he has been mentioned -- perhaps by his publicist -- as a potential replacement for Alex Trebek when the long-time host of "Jeopardy" retires. Other rumors had Lauer joining his former colleague Katie Couric as the host of a talk show.

Clearly, "Today" is the lead car in the train wreck that is NBC. As Joe Hagan noted in New York Magazine, Lauer has been the focal point of fan outrage over the botched ouster of Ann Curry. The impact of that decision has been catastrophic from a financial perspective because morning shows are such huge cash cows for the networks.

"In the aftermath of the Curry debacle, ('Today') lost half a million viewers and ceded first place in the ratings war to ABC’s 'Good Morning America,' losing millions of dollars overnight," Hagan wrote.

Getting rid of Lauer, however, may not be easy or cheap. He reportedly earns $25 million a year and just signed a new contract last year. No doubt, Lauer will demand big money to walk away quietly from the Peacock Network.

About the only silver lining for NBC in the Lauer drama -- and it's not much of one -- is that it makes the media temporarily forget the network's other hot messes such as the anemic ratings performance of its prime-time lineup and its efforts to oust Jay Leno from the "Tonight" show. The square-jawed comic is reportedly planning to stay on the job through 2014 so he can "keep peeving everyone at the network off," according to Fox's 411 column.

NBC faces two public relations disasters at the same time that are almost totally of its own doing.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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