'The show is not where I want it to be right now," the highest-paid newsman in the history of the world said on CNN Wednesday night. "The ratings are not where I want them to be."

Yes, Matt Lauer's first on-air interview since completing his titanic deal may have been official confirmation of what the rest of the TV world now knows: "Today" is in trouble.

Since the beginning of this season, viewers are down 4 percent, while "Good Morning America's" are up 4 percent, and the latter even won a couple of weeks during the last month, ending a streak that began during Bill Clinton's first term.

Now what? That was the valid question -- really, the only one worth asking -- "Today" contributor Donny Deutsch (subbing for Piers Morgan) put to Lauer.

"I did not stay at the 'Today' show because of money. I want to make it better. I want to reinvigorate the show in some ways that perhaps we have let up on in the past couple of years. To leave now seemed like leaving when work needed to be done."

Deutsch cleverly posed a gimme-a-one-word-answer to a series of names. Of "Anne Curry," Lauer perfunctorily noted, "The biggest heart in broadcasting. Incredibly talented" -- moments after lavishly praising her predecessors, Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Lauer denied reports that he received a $25 million-$30 million payday, but wouldn't cite a specific figure, either.

"It's not about how much more money you can make," he repeated. "I promise you it's not about [that]. It's about wanting to leave the show in a really good place."

Actually, it's about winning, and Matt -- very well-paid, you can be assured -- has his work cut out.