After Ann Curry was unceremoniously fired from The Today Show last year, nugget-headed everyman cohost Matt Lauer was demonized as the driving force behind her ouster. But did Lauer really deserve to become morning TV's most hated man? According to a new New York magazine profile by Joe Hagan... yes, he kind of did.
Hagan reports that Lauer "openly complained about" Curry's performance after she became his co-host in 2011. The dislike, it seems, was genuine: "Curry and Lauer had no relationship and barely spoke" when the cameras weren't rolling. Lauer flirted with the idea of moving to ABC, but turned them down at the last moment (and made powerful enemies of ABC executives in the process). He decided instead to accept a $25 million per year deal from NBC, which came, Hagan says, with the understanding that Curry would be fired.
Much internal politicking, backstabbing and strategizing ensued. NBC executives, Today Show producers, and talent schemed against one another for months, some supporting Lauer, others more partial to Curry. Meanwhile, ABC gained in the ratings. Then, last June, came the fateful leak. Hagan reports:
What finally forced a resolution was not an agreement between Ann Curry and NBC but a leak to reporter Brian Stelter of the New York Times that Curry was being forced off the Today show. Stelter, an ambitious reporter and hyperactive Twitter star who once interviewed for a job at NBC, was a hovering presence in the morning-TV world as he worked on a forthcoming book called Top of the Morning, which promised to be the definitive account of what was happening at Today. Fingers began pointing over the leak. Was it Jim Bell trying to force Curry's hand? Was it a negotiating tactic by Curry's lawyer? (Stelter, for his part, says it was not Camp Curry.) Lauer assured his booker, "My hands are clean." Bell considered pulling Curry off the air, waiting till the evening to decide whether she could appear on television the next day. The following morning, Curry was discovered crying in her dressing room before airtime.
Then, of course, came that awful, tear-soaked goodbye, which cemented Curry's status as a victim of the scheming machinations of Lauer and his allies. NBC tried to have the pair kiss and make up at the Olympics, but Curry "sat in her car a few yards from the set until her shot was ready, [and] refused to speak to Lauer as he tried making small talk." Lauer has been left bitter by the entire experience. Hagan says that he even accused Brian Stelter (described as "Lauer's nemesis") of working with ABC to try to undermine him.
It sounds paranoid when you put it like that. But it may be true in effect—that is, if Lauer doesn't know how to curry (ha) favor with media reporters, then he may wind up on the wrong side of their reports. At least he still has that $25 million, each year.
[New York. Photo of happier times: Getty]