After being blamed by media critics for a ratings decline at the Today show and the mishandling of his co-host Ann Curry's departure, Matt Lauer is opening up for the first time about the show's behind-the-scenes drama.
"It was a hard time for everybody," Lauer said in a recent interview with Howard Kurtz, the Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast and Newsweek, about Curry's ouster from Today in June 2012. "We were getting kicked around a lot. Some of it was self-inflicted and perhaps deserved," he added.
Lauer, 55, acknowledges that the circumstances surrounding the removal of Curry -- who was abruptly replaced by news reporter Savannah Guthrie -- was mishandled. "I don't think the show and the network handled the transition well. You don't have to be Einstein to know that," he said. "It clearly did not help us. We were seen as a family, and we didn't handle a family matter well."
Former NBC News president Steve Capus told Kurtz that Lauer was in fact against the way the situation was handled and advice was to "go slow and take care of Ann" during the process. "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.
Regarding the Today show's ratings slide amid the success of ABC's rival Good Morning America, Lauer said it has actually inspired him and his team to step up their game. "In some ways being No. 2 in the ratings is a real shot in the arm, a kick in the pants," he said. "It makes you hungrier... I don't think it's a bad thing to have a fire lit under your ass."
Despite all the show's negative publicity over the past year -- including reports that NBC executives were planning to remove him from Today as well -- Lauer says he still maintains a positive outlook. "I'm not going to whine or get depressed. Who's going to feel sorry for me? Nobody," he said. "Besides, I am the luckiest guy I know."
Lauer also said that Today has become "a much more positive and uplifting" show in recent months. "While Today will always cover hard-news developments, however tragic, we're choosing more inspiring stories," he said.