Matt Lauer, the co-anchor of the Today show since 1997, was reportedly earning $25 million a year. But before NBC crowned Lauer the network’s leading morning man, he spent more than 12 years bouncing from one small-market station to another.
Things got so bad in the early ‘90s that Lauer, who hadn’t seen a paycheck in one year and three months, answered a help wanted ad on the back of a tree trimmer’s truck.
“I called the number when I got home and left a message on a machine with my name and number,” Lauer recalled to Ohio Today. “About three hours later, while I was sitting there waiting for the tree trimmers to call back, the phone rang and it was WNBC.”
Lauer had landed a life-changing gig on the network’s early weekday news show that involved doing live teases with Today co-anchors Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel. Lauer told Broadcasting & Cable in 2008 he felt he had a natural chemistry with Couric and Gumbel. And executives agreed. Lauer was soon asked to fill in for Gumbel when he went on vacation. (He took 11 weeks worth in 1996.)
“The Today show was my dream job,” he gushed to Broadcasting & Cable in 2008. “It was a surreal moment.”
In 1997, Lauer was named Gumbel’s successor, and by 1998, he was conducting high-profile interviews including his sit-down with Hillary Clinton just days after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. Another pivotal moment: The dad of Jack, 16, Thijs, 11, and Romy, 14, with wife Annette Roque, was sitting behind the news desk on September 11, 2001, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. “It’s a day that forever changed us,” he told Broadcasting & Cable in 2008. “It was the hardest day, trying to tell people what we know and what we are speculating.”
When Couric exited Today to anchor the CBS Evening News in May 2006, Lauer carried the show until Meredith Vieira joined the team in September.
“Matt asks tough questions in a professional way with all the follow-ups necessary,” then-Today executive producer Jeff Zucker raved to Broadcasting & Cable. “He is the perfect advocate for the viewer.”
But Lauer’s 21 year stint on Today wasn’t without drama. When Ann Curry took Vieira’s place in the cohost anchor slot in June 2011, sources told Us Weekly she and Lauer butted heads and she was ousted in 2013.
“Everybody at NBC, everybody at the Today show, everybody understood that Ann was kicked out of her position because Matt didn’t want her there,” a prominent NBC staffer told reporter Joe Hagen for his New York Magazine cover story that year. Don Nash, an executive producer, added that there was no hiding the pair’s lackluster on-screen banter.
“You can’t fake it for very long that early in the morning,” he told Hagan. “I think viewers have a sixth sense about all that. If your two anchors don’t like each other off the air, they’re not going to be fooled if they love each other one the air.”
Now Curry’s fans are having the last laugh. NBC News announced Wednesday, November 29, that Lauer was fired overnight after a colleague accused him of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Just 24 hours before the news broke, Lauer appeared on air per usual to discuss the morning’s news.
Lauer has not yet addressed the allegations.