Maybe the real problem at 'Today' is Matt Lauer

The embattled co-host says a 'dark' tone damaged its ratings. Critics see the problem more about the messenger than the message.

By Aimee Picchi Mar 12, 2013 12:28PM

File photo of Matt Lauer on NBC News' "Today" may be NBC's prize TV program, but it has taken a battering during the past 12 months. Once at the top of the ratings game, "Today" has fallen from its perch, although it says it has a blueprint to restore luster to the peacock's feathers. Now owned by Comcast (CMCSA), NBC sure needs the help.

What's the plan? A lighter, more uplifting tone, co-host Matt Lauer tells the Daily Beast. But critics say the bigger problem is Lauer himself, who was tarnished by the ouster of former co-host Ann Curry, with some viewers blaming him for her poor treatment.

According to Lauer, though, "Today" suffered because of a tabloid-like approach, covering lurid crimes and celebrity scandals. "The show got a little dour and depressing and dark," said Lauer, who depicts himself as fighting against the coverage. "I’ll be perfectly blunt: I was losing a lot of those battles. We were driving a certain kind of viewer away."

One thing's certain: "Today" has driven away a lot of viewers, but Lauer's explanation appears to cover only part of the story. 

Some fans put the onus on Lauer, with viewers taking potshots at what they say is a huge ego and an even bigger multimillion-dollar paycheck. However, he tells the Daily Beast he actually urged his bosses to slow down. 

But Lauer's confessional tone in the Daily Beast interview -- he claims he offered to quit if it would help the show -- is backfiring, with critics calling him "phony" and "misguided." Lauer's decreasing popularity is going to be hard to fix. His Q score, or a measure of a celebrity's likability, plunged by 25% last fall in the wake of Curry's ouster.

"Today" has continued to lose out to ABC's "Good Morning America." The Disney-owned (DIS) network's show has benefited from the popularity of anchor Robin Roberts, whose struggle with a rare illness and recovery have made viewers sympathetic. 

As a result, "Good Morning America" won its morning slot in February's sweeps for the first time in 20 years, bumping "Today" from the top. 

But it doesn't appear Lauer is going anywhere, despite a report earlier this month that some executives were discussing his role. Last fall, when he told NBC Universal Chief Executive Steve Burke that he would quit, Burke said he wouldn't hear of it. 

"You’re the best person who’s ever done this," Burke said, according to the Daily Beast. "We’ll get through this." Maybe Lauer will get through it, but it's unclear how many viewers will stick around to watch.

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Mar 12, 2013 4:51PM
Quit watching after the poor treatment of Ann Curry and could care less about why it was done or who was cause.
Mar 12, 2013 4:49PM
Mar 12, 2013 5:06PM

Matt has become a huge celebrity, and now takes himself WAY too seriously.  He is rude to many of his guests he is interviewing, sometimes even hostile.  Arrogant little you-know-what.


NBC is just as bad for creating the monster, and their terrible treatment of Ann Curry (after all, who put her there with Matt to begin with?  Why not punish THAT person?).

Mar 12, 2013 5:01PM
Clearly, Matt has to go. Given that and the return of Ann Curry in the lead role, you'd see a tremendous change. It's just that simple! People related to Ann in ways that Matt could NEVER achieve. HONEST, CARING, GENUINE...that's what people respond to and what surely flies over the head of the brass. Sadly,they'll never get it.
Mar 12, 2013 5:09PM
Never, ever liked Matt Lauer.  When he first appeared on the scene, I had bad vibes about him.  I couldn't put my finger on it but then the Ann Curry thing happened and I knew then what it was.  HE AN EGOTIST!!!  AND A NARCISSIST!!!  AND THINKS HE'S REALLY APPEALING!!! NEGATORIO!!!
Mar 12, 2013 5:18PM
Matt is the problem there. everything has to focus on him.--him--him.  with friends like him and savanah, who needs enemys.  both back stabbers. get rid of both and get ann back. better show
Mar 12, 2013 2:16PM
It's not just Matt or Today show. It's the entire NBC family: bad Olympics coverage, poor quality tv shows. The only reason I watch NBC today is Brian Williams.
Mar 12, 2013 2:46PM
Change the boring format. Savannah may be smart--but she does not come out as SINCERE, compassionate on the stories- "she comes out as- I am just doing the job, read it and be done quickly: that is it!"  Look at GMA-  they look like they love what they do naturally, quick, funny, fresh, on trend, colorful, exciting, etc.--one can tell the difference why they are at the top.
Search ways to entice us to come back to Today, bring in short "boost"- to kill the boring segments.

Mar 12, 2013 5:06PM
Get rid of guest like your so called "financial experts" ( e.g. Star Jones) and guests like Snooki and I will watch!!
Mar 12, 2013 5:03PM
Maybe the "real problem" with that show is that it's leftist posing as mainstream wholesome American programming and people aren't fooled.
Mar 12, 2013 5:22PM
Matt Lauer is a Joke, he needs to loose his job!!!
Mar 12, 2013 5:21PM
Matt is just plain boring...a snoozer.  GMA is kicking Matt and Co's butt because they have energy and spunk.  
Mar 12, 2013 5:26PM
Why not just wait till the end of the Obama term and let him replace Matt. After all this show and network has been blindly promoting Obama thru both elections. Then Matt can run for president next election, they will just trade places, neither seem to know anything about politics anyway and that appears to be just what gets you elected.
Mar 12, 2013 4:47PM
Actually, I've changed to the CBS Morning Show because it actually focuses on real news, and not the tabloid type of celebrity comings and goings. CHarlie Rose and all are wonderful! When their show is over, I click back to the Today show at 9 a.m.. I really like Willie G...
Mar 12, 2013 5:53PM
Matt Lauer is so bias in his reporting, that's the problem. He doesn't listen and he constantly interrupts when he asks questions. (especially when he disapproves of the answer) He should of been booted years ago.

Matt's there's always the National Enquirer.

Mar 12, 2013 5:07PM
If your show is going to be a leftist communazi propaganda arm, just come out of the closet with it.  Don't try to pretend like you're Sunday Evening family fare on the friggin' Disney Channel.
Mar 12, 2013 5:10PM
If Katie Couric, once free from "Today" and Matt Lauer wouldn't team up with Lauer for another show on or off "Today" what does that say about Lauer?
Mar 12, 2013 1:15PM
Yes, it's Matt but there are huge troubles all along the line.  Someone with new blood has to revamp the show to bring it a fresh style.  This is a morning show and should have more fun to start the day.  That should be the Focus of morning TV and only GMA knows this so far.
Mar 12, 2013 1:51PM
I never watched Today but my parents did, so that is one reason I don't.  GMA has held my "heart" a long time, before Robin and before Joan.  I like the stories and the news and the headlines running along the bottom.  I am not into any of the celebrity news, but that junk is on everywhere.  Then I leave the room, get dressed, or go to work.
Mar 12, 2013 5:11PM
If it not Lauer, then who? What goes up, will come down. it's over.
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