NEW YORK — A top NBC News executive said Wednesday the network is not considering replacing Matt Lauer as anchor of the Today show despite reports that Anderson Cooper of CNN was approached about the job.
"Matt Lauer is the best in the business," said Alex Wallace, NBC News executive who oversees the Today show. "We want him in the Today show anchor chair for many years to come."
Wallace spoke after reports of a meeting with Cooper first appeared in Deadline Hollywood. The report was confirmed to the Associated Press by a source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private and was not authorized to speak to the media.
The longtime king of morning television, Today has fallen behind ABC's Good Morning America in the ratings over the past year, particularly since the messy ouster of Ann Curry as Lauer's co-anchor last summer. There has been a flurry of stories recently retracing that decision. Lauer has said he urged the network to move more slowly with its planned changes, but a New York magazine cover story this week suggested he didn't like Curry and did little to help her.
Whatever happened, it's clear that many Today viewers who did not like what happened to Curry have taken their anger out on Lauer.
In 2012, Lauer's positive "Q'' score was 23 — meaning 23 percent of people who knew him considered Lauer one of their favorite broadcasters, according to Marketing Evaluations Inc., a company that measures public sentiment toward well-known personalities. Last summer that score dropped to 14 and this month stands at 9, the company said. For the first time, George Stephanopoulos of Good Morning America has surpassed him. Among women, who make up the bulk of morning show audiences, Stephanopoulos is nearly twice as popular as Lauer and his GMA partner, Robin Roberts, is nearly three times as popular, the company said.
Where in the world is Matt Lauer? Trapped in a vortex of bad vibes with no escape in sight.
The approach to Cooper could mean that NBC has concluded that the time is right to actively work on replacing Lauer. Or not: His contract expires at the end of 2014 and it is widely assumed that Lauer will be ready then to move on from a job he's held since 1997. Under those circumstances, a forward-looking management team would be expected to be looking at alternatives.
"NBC News has many exploratory talks with talent inside and outside of the network, but to read anything specific into that is presumptuous," said an NBC News executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not allowed to discuss personnel moves.
Lauer has talked about resetting Today to be more serious, with less emphasis on crime stories. NBC was criticized this week by advocates for sexual abuse victims because Today aired excerpts of an interview that filmmaker John Ziegler had with convicted Penn State molester Jerry Sandusky; Lauer interviewed Ziegler on the air.
Potential internal replacements for Lauer could include Willie Geist and David Gregory.