"Matt Lauer" The Unspoken Name at NBC

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The NBC Suits are scared to death that the goose that lays the golden eggs is in poor health. It it is hitting the NBC Managers right in the wallet. 

Brian Stelter of the NY Times writes that The Today Show pays a lot of the bills for the rest of the news division; it was responsible for roughly half a billion dollars in revenue in 2011. That total dipped by at least $50 million in 2012, according to industry estimates, as “Good Morning America” capitalized on the show’s stumbles. NBC declined to comment. But managers at NBC News were told this week that they would receive smaller bonus checks for 2012 because of the “Today” show ratings slump.

Stelter says that staff members at NBC’s “Today” show huddled for a performance review last month, 10 months after the longtime morning show leader first fell behind ABC’s “Good Morning America” in the ratings. The mood was anxious, according to several attendees, as network executives discussed the findings from focus groups with hundreds of viewers.

The employees were reassured that “Today” viewers didn’t want their show to turn into “Good Morning America,” the ABC rival that has become Americans’ No. 1 choice in the mornings. But then they were told this: “What matters most is the anchor connection to the audience; what we need to work on is the connection.” As the word “connection” was repeated, some people in the room started to chuckle because of a name that went unspoken: Matt Lauer.

“What they meant was Matt. But no one would say it,” said a senior staff member who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Lauer was not there, but it is clear that the once-popular host’s relationship with his audience is in peril. Last April, Mr. Lauer signed a contract said to be worth $25 million a year, the most lucrative deal in the 60-year history of morning television. And then the bottom fell out. 

Since then, his popularity among viewers has plummeted and NBC has been forced to deny what was unthinkable a year ago: the rumor that Mr. Lauer, 55, who first took over the co-host chair in 1997, could soon be replaced by a younger host like Willie Geist, 37, or David Gregory, 42.

Read the Full Story at The Times