Matt Lauer criticized NBC over Ann Curry‘s dismissal and says he offered to quit. At least that’s the way NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke remembers it according to a piece today from Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast. The offer came amid Today‘s declining ratings and the messy departure of Ann Curry in June in favor of Savannah Guthrie. “If you think the show’s better off without me, let me know, and I’ll get out of the way,” Burke said Lauer told him. Burke said no way. Lauer had taken the lion’s share of criticism for how Curry left the show, with some reports blaming him directly for forcing her out. The backlash of that move was the start of a ratings crater — the next month, rival Good Morning America beat Today in total viewers and the 25-54 demo for the first time in 17 years. “I don’t think the show and the network handled the [Curry] transition well. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that,” Lauer told the website. (In fact, former NBC News president Steve Capus told Kurtz that Lauer told the network to give Curry time to adjust to her relatively new role as co-anchor. “He was quietly and publicly a supporter of Ann’s throughout the entire process. It is unfair that Matt has shouldered an undue amount of blame for a decision he disagreed with”, Capus said.) Lauer added, “We were seen as a family, and we didn’t handle a family matter well”.
The Daily Beast said Lauer pondered leaving the show himself and received permission to talk to ABC, CBS and HBO. In discussions with NBC, he was told the plan to remove Curry was happening whether he left or not — a decision ultimately made by then-exec producer Jim Bell and Burke. After he signed a big multiyear deal to stay, Lauer met with Curry over lunch at the Four Seasons, where they agreed her leaving would be bad for the show. He advised to her hire an agent and that they should take their concerns to NBC brass.
Lauer also said he tried to get NBC to sign Katie Couric and bring her back to Today before she eventually landed at ABC. From Kurtz:
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.