Matt Lauer Was Just The Beginning Of Turmoil At ‘Today’

As one of the longest-running shows in the history of American television, The Today Show has been the go-to morning news source for millions of people for more than six decades. But, once the Matt Lauer scandal broke in late 2017, it proved there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than fans thought.

Matt Lauer was fired from 'Today' in November 2017.
Matt Lauer | Photo by Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Matt Lauer’s sex scandal sparked a crisis

On November 29, 2017, Today Show fans woke up to a shocking announcement – NBC had fired longtime host Matt Lauer after a co-worker accused him of sexual misconduct. Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb delivered the news to viewers while holding back tears, but insiders say Guthrie saw Lauer’s termination as an opportunity.

A source claims that Guthrie has become one of the most powerful people the cast and crew of Today have ever seen, and she did it with the “accuracy of a skilled surgeon.” She became the boss by being ruthless, says the insider, and she “smelled blood” when Lauer got fired, and then she rebuilt the show around herself.

At the same time, Kotb – who NBC eventually named as Lauer’s replacement – saw this big change at the morning show as her chance to grab the spotlight.

Turmoil behind-the-scenes

As the network shake-up was taking place, Kathie Lee Gifford told her bosses she wanted out so she could pursue other projects. She waited until April 2019 to make her exit because of the behind-the-scenes “turmoil.”

The source also claims that hiring Jenna Bush Hager as Gifford’s replacement during the fourth hour of Today was nothing more than a stunt for ratings, and Guthrie made sure the network hired the former first daughter, even though the rest of the crew wanted someone more diverse.

The production insider also revealed that Hager’s early tapings were a disaster because producers had to feed her questions and coach her on how to react during interviews. Network execs believe that having Hager on the show is the key to getting big name guests.

Al Roker is still bitter about the Megyn Kelly disaster

For more than 20 years, Al Roker has been the Today Show weather reporter, and he also interviews some guests and joins Guthrie and Kotb for various segments. He is a Today Show staple, and often the voice of reason. But insiders say that he is still bitter over Megyn Kelly and her short-lived stint at NBC that came to an end last year when she made a controversial statement about blackface.

Insiders say Roker expected to get that third hour that the network gave to Kelly, and he was insulted that NBC expected him to fill the slot after they fired the former Fox News anchor. He reportedly told friends he wouldn’t do it without a raise.

The drama has been going on for years

Long before NBC fired Matt Lauer for his “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,” he had a rivalry with his former co-host Ann Curry. When Meredith Vieira left the show in 2011, the network named Curry as her replacement, but six months into her tenure, it was clear that the pairing of Curry with Lauer wasn’t a good idea.

According to Vulture, Lauer “openly complained” about Curry’s role on the show, and Good Morning America was rising in the ratings as it was obvious to many viewers that Curry and Lauer had zero onscreen rapport.

By January 2012, rumors were swirling that the peacock network was looking to replace Curry with Guthrie, who at the time was the show’s White House correspondent. Executive producer Jim Bell reportedly came up with a plan to force Curry out, and it was known as “Operation Bambi.”

The boys club

As Today’s ratings continued to slip, Curry was not getting along with the staff because they were making fun of her on-air awkwardness and wardrobe choices. Sources say that Curry “felt that the boys’ club atmosphere behind the scenes at Today undermined her from the start, and she told friends that her final months were a form of professional torture.”

More and more viewers started to notice that Lauer and Curry weren’t getting along, and Today was in danger of losing their top spot in the ratings, which the show had had since 1995. NBC News president Steve Capus was not happy about what was going on, and by February 2012, he was ready to remove Curry from her co-hosting gig.

At the same time, Matt Lauer renegotiated his contract and signed the largest TV deal ever for a morning news anchor – $25 million a year. And, just weeks after his new contract announcement, Curry tells viewers on live TV that she was leaving the show. She was in tears, and Lauer sat nearby looking uncomfortable.

The damage was done, and for the first time in 16 years, Good Morning America beat Today in the ratings.

No more morning domination

The day after Curry announced she was leaving, NBC named Guthrie as the show’s new co-host, and ratings immediately started to plummet. Today lost more than 20 percent of its viewers, and Good Morning America became the new king of morning news shows.

Lauer’s reputation took a major hit in the wake of Curry’s departure, and over the next few years, NBC kept trying to retool their flagship program in an attempt to be younger, brighter, and more diverse.

Good Morning America has now been number one for six straight years. And, with younger viewers rejecting morning TV news programs and opting for online sources, it doesn’t look like Today will ever reclaim the morning show glory that it had for generations.