NEW YORK - The "Today" show's top producer on Wednesday defended Matt Lauer against stories that have portrayed the anchor as difficult to deal with during the show's slide in the ratings.
The longtime morning champ has slipped behind ABC's "Good Morning America" in the ratings over recent months, after more than 15 years of being the unquestioned leader in the morning. The new ratings order has solidified since Ann Curry's tearful exit as Lauer's co-host in June.
"Matt has been the heart and soul of the show for a long, long time, and any of the stuff out that has portrayed him in an unflattering light as being difficult to work with is patently false and it's been tough to deal with," said Jim Bell, "Today" executive producer.
This April 24, file photo shows NBC 'Today' show co-host Matt Lauer attending the TIME 100 gala, at the Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York. The 'Today' show's top producer is speaking out against stories portraying anchor Matt Lauer as being difficult to work with during the show's slide in the ratings. Executive Producer Jim Bell said Wednesday that Lauer is the heart and soul of NBC's morning news show and that negative stories about him have been hard to deal with. 'Today' has slipped behind ABC's 'Good Morning America' in the ratings recently, particularly since Lauer's former co-host, Ann Curry, was replaced by Savannah Guthrie. That's led to a wave of bad publicity, much of it focused on Lauer.
One tabloid report last week described Lauer as an "anchor animal" who berates the staff and inserts himself into show decisions, which Bell described as "patently false." He also denied an online report that Lauer would be asked to take a pay cut if the show's ratings don't improve. "Today" has also consistently shot down stories that Lauer played a behind-the-scenes role in Savannah Guthrie's replacement of Curry.
Asked if viewers were taking Curry's dismissal out on "Today," Bell said that "it's more complex than that."
"Any time there is a change, especially in the morning, it takes a while for people to process that change and we're still going through that," Bell said. "That's OK. We understand. We get it. We love our team and we really feel positive about the show we are doing and we are taking the long view here."
"Today" has actually taken pride in seamless anchor transitions in the past, such as when Meredith Vieira replaced Katie Couric, Curry replaced Vieira and Lauer took over for Bryant Gumbel. This one hasn't worked, at least for now.
Bell denied reports that he would leave "Today" for another job at NBC, saying "this is the best job in the world."