Lest we get too carried to near tears as Savannah Guthrie was this morning, let's try to remember that there's a reasonable case to be made that firing Matt Lauer from the Today show could also be presented as overdue, and necessary.
Lauer, the highest paid anchor on NBC, at $25 million a year was the longstanding face of a cash cow, but beyond that... well, discussions of his role there were often kind to say the least. His immediate predecessors went on to host the NIghtly News (Brokaw) or be the face of NBC Sports (Gumbel), but no one ever suggested Lauer was good for any of that Indeed, it's hard to say, even now, just what he was good at. His interviews were never called "must see" or memorable, he wasn't the go-to person for major "gets," as they say. He wasn't especially insightful and did little in the way of political moderation (and when he did push his way into the format, last election season, his inartful pestering of HIllary Clinton was widely panned).
Lauer sat with several cohosts - Katie Couric's star power was undeniable, Meredith Vieira's quietly assured, Savannah Guthrie's enthusiasm widely admired. Lauer was none of these, and worse, really, in helping to wreck Ann Curry. Lauer was the face of endless self satisfaction, of having nailed the catbird seat on a money train no one was prepared to stop. He was the nonthreatening, disinterested, slightly sarcastic face of a show that gave up on hard news and settled comfortably into puff pieces and cross promotion, soldiering on through Olympic mornings and Macy's parades without ever rising above expectations. No wonder, on his watch, Today fell from first to third (briefly) in morning shows, the subject of endless backstage gossip and production team shakeups, full of senior executives too nervous of change or too scared of anger to point out that the thing most in need of a revamp was sitting at the main desk.
He started blandly handsome and never especially developed into anything more, and arguably helped immeasurably in making morning television exponentially worse. Weddings on beaches, travelogues from across the globe... and of course another day of diets and that book everybody's reading and that movie that opens at $150 million or more. Lauer's tenure turned Today into People and people into marketing ploys. Hard news? Why even bother?
And for all of this he was known and seen all over New York as one of those guys who had it all and expected more. The ever growing absurd salary. The helicopter to the Hamptons just to go to work. That house and the perfect wife and those puffy articles in magazines you never read at the doctor's office (like, erm, People, the print equivalent of Today). He was never especially loved - tabloids were all too happy to attribute internal strife at Today to his ever growing ego - but post enough publicists on the project and from a certain light, not examined too closely, he was just an ordinary guy doing another day's work. Or something. And hey, check out that mansion!
It took less than 3 hours for Guthrie's "we had no idea" innocence (and hey, how better to elicit that reaction than to tell her an hour or so before going on air) to be subsumed by reports that both Variety and the New York Times had been working, for some time, on reports of complaints against Lauer - and that NBC knew of those allegations. That's gonna sting, and gives some indication, still, of how on air female talent is treated next to male costars. I'm thinking less of Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell than I am of Kelly Ripa, who finally put her foot down after repeated attempts to be written off while carrying ABC's syndicated "Live!" NBC has wasted years perpetuating this TV "husband and wife" silliness of Today cohosts, despite a storied history of women - Barbara Walters and Jane Pauley through now - perfectly able to carry the show alone.
But more than that, more than the way Lauer's story dovetails so neatly with all the "we're shocked, shocked" responses to power male misbehavior, the real test it seems to me is if someone takes note of the way Lauer's endless mediocrity warped and degraded the very fabric of the Today show itself, into the fluffy, pointless, four hour monstrosity he leaves behind. It's that glossy, false fun patina of endless morning cheer that really deserves to die, sacrificed on the alter of the sacred monsters allowed to thrive in its fake living rooms and rope line courtyards. No more Matt Lauers. Is that really too much to hope?