‘Today’ Show Producer: Leave Matt Lauer Alone!

NBC’s perennial ratings champion “Today” recently made some fairly big changes by pushing old hand Ann Curry out in favor of fresh-faced Savannah Guthrie. Amazingly, the world continued to turn.

But there’s a bit of tension over at 30 Rock these days, because “Good Morning America” has finally started to beat “Today” in the ratings after a nearly unbroken 16-year streak playing runner-up.

Right after the switch, media gossips began to wonder whether “Today’s” biggest star (apologies to mid-day drinking aficionados Kathy and Hoda) was behind the change. Even Al Roker came down on Ann’s side by accusing Matt of “throw[ing] one of us under the bus.” Leave it to the New York Post to come up with a fitting nickname for “Anchor Animal” Lauer and accuse him of being too demanding on set. Juicy!

Well, in an apparent attempt to control the rumors and counter the negative press, executive producer Jim Bell gave interviews to both The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times “Media Decoder” blog this week.

He said that the Ann Curry move was “absolutely” his decision and downplayed Lauer’s role in the whole sordid saga by citing his “heart of gold”, claiming that “This stuff about him has been very irresponsible and in a lot of cases flat-out wrong” and taking a crack at GMA’s journalistic credibility for good measure by calling “Today” “a more serious show.”

With all due respect, sir, that is a bit of a stretch.

Earlier rumors had Bell leaving his “Today” role for another network–or a senior position within the NBC organization. Now some wonder whether his recent behavior confirms a pending move. Is this a case of a man on his way out who’s chosen to fall on his sword to protect a colleague?