Matt Lauer and the gang at NBC's TODAY have seen better times. Lauer, 55, gets frank with the Daily Beast about his morning show's flagging ratings -- and the much-discussed (many say botched) departure last June of co-anchor Ann Curry.
"It was a hard time for everybody," says Lauer of the negative attention on the show. "We were getting kicked around a lot. Some of it was self-inflicted and perhaps deserved." Curry, 56, was quickly jettisoned from the show and replaced by Savannah Guthrie, and made a memorably tearful goodbye -- in which she noticeably declined a hug from Lauer. In the aftermath of her exit, the show's ratings continued to declne.
"I don't think the show and the network handled the transition well. You don't have to be Einstein to know that," Lauer admits. "It clearly did not help us. We were seen as a family, and we didn't handle a family matter well."
NBC News' former president Steve Capus denies that Lauer was instrumental in pushing out Curry, who had only recently taken over the co-anchor role after many years as news reader. 'When Matt was informed that we had made this decision [to fire Ann], his good counsel was to go slow, to take care of Ann, and to do the right things," Capus explains. "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."
Curry replaced Meredith Viera, who left the series in 2011; the Daily Beast reveals that Lauer approached former co-host Katie Couric to consider re-joining on the Today Show couch; the deal never went through.
As TODAY attempts a comeback -- and overcome Good Morning America to reclaim its number one spot among morning shows -- Lauer says he's "not going to whine or get depressed. Who's going to feel sorry for me? Nobody."
He adds: "In some ways being No. 2 in the ratings is a real shot in the arm, a kick in the pants . . . It makes you hungrier ... I don't think it’s a bad thing to have a fire lit under your ass."