As Lauer Exhorts ‘Today’ Show Troops, ‘GMA’ Moves Out in Front

Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie on "The Today Show" last month (Photo: NBC)

Tensions — or at least concerns — are reportedly on the rise behind the scenes at NBC’s “Today” show as ABC’s “Good Morning America” seems to be solidifying its lead week after week.

A story this week in the New York Post says the NBC morning show’s slide into second place in the financially crucial morning ratings race is greatly affecting “Today” show star Matt Lauer.

Reading between the lines of the story — here — you get the impression that Matt sees himself as a kind of “field general” at “Today,” among whose duties is to inspire the show’s staff to work harder and do better.

The story also says Lauer has gone so far as to prohibit anyone from uttering the words “Good Morning America” within range of his ears. Lauer is quoted in the story, but he doesn’t appear to have commented on that particular accusation. Instead, he just joked about how “dangerous” the story made him seem. In the same story, the “Today” show’s real boss, executive producer Jim Bell, noted that he, Bell, is in charge of the show.

Bell was also the producer in charge of NBC’s coverage of the London Olympics earlier this summer, and he reportedly received high marks from NBC brass for his work during the games. In fact, the summer Games — which had all of the “Today” show stars in London for two weeks — was a welcome diversion from the drama that erupted last June when Ann Curry was replaced by Savannah Guthrie.

How’s Savannah doing on “Today”? Watch her interview Giuliana Rancic on Wednesday’s show:
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It was a strategy aimed at stemming the ratings erosion that had ABC’s “Good Morning America” catching up to, and occasionally beating, “Today” in the ratings on various weeks last spring.

Cut to the present day, however, and you begin to understand why some at “Today” are worrying: Week after week, when the ratings come in, it seems “GMA” is solidifying its lead enough to claim the title of America’s No. 1 morning show.

In the most recent ratings — for the week of Sept. 3 through Sept. 7 — “GMA” averaged 5.199 million viewers per show, with “Today” trailing at 4.404 million (“CBS This Morning” averaged 2.193 million viewers that week). A week earlier, it was “GMA,” 5.366 million; and “Today,” 4.503 million (CBS had 2.338 million). Ratings for last week — Sept. 10-14 — are due out on Thursday (Sept. 20).

Earlier, Savannah interviewed former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the latest Romney flap:
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The story about Lauer was the second time in two days that the New York Post did a story about the “Today” show’s problems. The story a day earlier had a headline characterizing the “Today” show as “reeling” from the “GMA” ratings surge.

Our take: The question now is — what do Lauer and the “Today” show brass think of Savannah Guthrie? It’s really not her fault, but so far, she doesn’t seem to possess the charisma to generate excitement, lure back viewers and move the ratings needle back up into the leadership position. It was widely reported last June that Curry was dropped because of a perceived lack of chemistry between Matt and her. But what of Savannah and Matt? Is their chemistry any better? The answer so far is no.

Stay tuned — this morning TV story is not over.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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