In the quickly unravelling world at "Today," now this: A prominent report says that NBC management made a call to CNN's Anderson Cooper about joining "Today" before year's end, which ostensibly would put him at the head of the line to replace Matt Lauer, whose deal at the show is up in just under two years.
True or not true?
I am told: True, although NBC has said little regarding matters relating to the ongoing turmoil at "Today."
The story first surfaced in "Deadline," prompting some industry observers to wonder whether Lauer himself actually gave out the leak to the important and widely read website. Why? To let his bosses know they can't control him.
I am also told: Lauer never called Cooper -- who apparently has no interest in joining the flailing show -- to complain.
What's going on here? In the wake of a sensational New York magazine article that hit the stands Monday, it is apparent that Lauer's attempts at damage control have come seriously undone. The article was brutal on Lauer, sparking some industry speculation that the magazine was infuriated after Lauer had done an impromptu damage control interview with prominent media reporter Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast. In that interview, Matt spoke of how he tried to save Ann Curry -- who is now widely seen as Little Orphan Annie, a sad and maltreated waif, done in by Snidely Whiplash himself (Lauer).
The New York mag piece portrayed him as something of an office bully -- or that was certainly one of the prominent takeaways that has now officially entered the narrative. For example ... I was interviewed by Mitch Albom on his terrific WJR radio show last night, and Albom -- a vastly more sophistocated media observer than your's truly -- kept bringing up that point as well, even though he likes Lauer (I do, too, by the way, and have never seen any evidence of oafish behavior, though I don't work for him!).
There's also speculation that Lauer went "off the reservation" to talk to Kurtz, which had the effect of not only angering New York -- which thought it had till then a free and clear scoop -- but also NBC top management.
So what gives? Glad you asked. My speculation is that Lauer has deeply regretted ever signing an extension to remain on "Today" -- that he's overstayed his welcome at the party, that the average person out there resents his huge salary (rumored $25 million per) and that he's now taking full blame for a disaster that wasn't even of his making, Ann Curry's appointment as his jolly morning companion a couple of years ago.
My further speculation -- which is all this is -- is that he's given management his blessing to explore replacements. I wrote of Josh Elliott the other day, and that certainly remains an intriguing possibility, but Elliott has none of Lauer's news chops -- which is why that call went out to Anderson. Anderson? Wonderful news talent and he knows how to swim with crocodiles -- literally -- but for reasons I've never been fully clear about, every show he's ever anchored, up to and including "The Mole," has never been a big success. As good as "360" is -- and it is -- the audience has long been measured in the dozens.
Ryan Seacrest? Oh be serious ... (although, who knows!).
Finally, here's the point of this morning's post: Things are happening quickly at "Today," and the narrrative has gotten completely out of NBC's -- and Lauer's -- control. The carefully planned New York mag story is now widely seen as a disaster, and who knows what Brian Stelter will have in his book on "Today" when it comes out shortly.
These things have a way of getting even more out of control, and that -- to use the old cliche -- is why I would "keep an eye on this space." Something big could happen ... and at this rate, very likely will.