Matt Lauer has quietly signed a new deal with NBC to keep him at "The Today Show" for two more years.
Maybe not so quietly: NBC gave the story to The New York Times yesterday, with quotes and terms included. To condense all those, quickly for you: He's the best in the business and he loves what he does, and this is for two more years, and no, we're not saying how much this is costing us.
But why? Why is Matt staying when most of the TV industry expected him to wrap his tour at the end of this year? That's not answered exactly, nor is NBC going further beyond what it's already leaked.
So, the 10 reasons why Matt is staying - indeed, a bit of a surprise considering his role in the Ann Curry debacle and "Today's" second-place position behind "Good Morning America":
1.) NBC had no one to replace him. That's perhaps obvious, perhaps not. Willie Geist has been groomed certainly but for some reason the network decided he wasn't ready yet. This is a good day for Matt, less so for Willie. In addition, two years gives "Today" a chance to groom Willie further - or get someone else (pick a name - everyone else has) in line.
2.) Matt had nowhere else to go. Really - syndication is hardly an option, and more like a penalty. He's not going to replace Brian Williams, ever, and Matt is smart enough and wise enough to see what's happened to other male hosts over the years after having left "Today," Tom Brokaw excepted: It's either the golf course or semiretirement. He's obviously not ready for either. But I'll go just a little further here and suggest that Lauer doesn't want to leave the show in second place. He's got pride of authorship; he doesn't want to be known as the guy who helped demolish the greatest winning streak in network TV history (hundreds of weeks, literally). He wants to leave on top, and leave the show on top. Two more years gives him that chance.
3.) Ann Curry is ancient history, as far as viewers are concerned. People move on - they forget dumb network moves and probably came to the belated conclusion that NBC was probably right anyway - that Ann was a terrible choice to replace Meredith Vieira, and that Savannah Guthrie's actually been just fine. Nothing against Curry, by the way - she was just ill-suited to the gig.
4.) Money: Matt was making an estimated $25 million under the old deal. You may be certain that figure was bumped up nicely.
5.) NBC has given Matt something else - this is likely one of those below-the-waterline deals that just isn't about money but is about the future, and ego, and all the baubles that go to immensely valuable employees. His own production company, funded by Comcast? A role on "Nightly News" when this ends? Whatever Lauer wanted, he got.
6.) "Today's" ratings have indeed improved (a bit). I'm not going to bore you with numbers because - believe me - both "Today" and "Good Morning America" can make cases that their ratings are getting better, while their rival's numbers are circling down the toilet (and in fact they do every Thursday, when the weekly numbers come out).
7.) Stability is coin of the realm in morning TV, and Matt is stability personified. "Today," in fact, is no longer crashing. It has stabilized. And when you stabilize, you can then begin to think about all the things you need to do to rebuild. One of those things assuredly is not (please excuse my mixing of metaphors) to rock the boat. If Matt were to leave when his deal ends in a few months, that would not only rock the boat, but re-sink the poor dear thing all over again.
8.) Two years buys NBC time. Time is the crucial element here, Part of the network's grand strategy is to pick off "GMA" personnel as they become available, forcing "GMA" to rebuild its "family" periodically. Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos aren't going anywhere, but Matt's new deal almost certainly will keep Stephanopoulos at "GMA." That may sit well with George, maybe not - but if Diane Sawyer were for some reason to leave "World News," David Muir would most likely replace her now. With Matt now sticking with "Today," George is staying put at "GMA."
9.) Matt Lauer is good at what he does. Let's not overlook the obvious, shall we? He is good at this, and being good at this is not as easy as it may appear. (In fact, the illusion of ease is a key part of being good at this...) Sure, others can do it; sure, the money's insane. But Lauer represents to viewers that aforementioned stability and sense that when they turn on the tube in the morning at 7 sharp, there he will be...
10.) This new two-year deal will bring him right to the brink of 20 years at "Today." In fact, let's just say it will take him to the 20-year mark, period. (He became co-anchor early January, 1997.) There's value in that anniversary for NBC. In another 12 to 15 months, the network can say that "Matt is leaving after two glorious decades!" and then take the next year to do a "Barbara Walters." A "Barbara Walters" is a network term for a strategy involving a high-level employee who is "retiring," and then promoting the living heck out of that impending "retirement" for months and months. It's also called "promotional overkill," and it has been proven to work. .