‘Today’ EP: Matt Lauer ‘Should not bear any of the blame’ for Ann Curry Transition

By Chris Ariens 

THR’s Marissa Guthrie peppered “Today” show EP Jim Bell with questions on a range of issues this morning. As “Today” continues to struggle in the ratings, and staff rumors abound, Guthrie gets Bell on the record about his future and “Today’s.”

When asked whether he regrets the decision to continue a Kris Jenner interview over the national moment of silence on 9/11/12, Bell says “probably,” adding, “I think more importantly than getting into one segment or one show, is to invite a broader comparison of the shows [Today and GMA]. The competition in this case has chosen to do a very different show. If you watch them side-by-side you’ll see. It’s worked for them in the short term. But we’re not going to do anything that’s going to hurt our brand and the legacy of the ‘Today’ show.”

Guthrie: Do you think the way the transition between Ann Curry and Savannah Guthrie was handled may have dinged Matt Lauer’s reputation?

Bell: I think it’s really unfortunate how that played out. And obviously the transition didn’t go quite as we had hoped. And Matt, I need to say for the record, really should not bear any of the blame for that. I’m the executive producer of the show. He’s not. He’s the public face of the show. So he’s taken some of this. But it has been wrong. And that fact should be corrected.

Guthrie: How do you overcome that? Do you think some viewers were turned off by that?

Bell: I suppose. But I think really one of the great things about being on the air ever day is you get to show who you are and you get to put on smart, relevant important programming. And Matt is probably the best guy to ever host morning television.

Guthrie: What’s your supreme ambition at NBCUni? Would you like to have some larger role at the news division or the sports division?

Bell: I’m very happy where I am. I think part of the daily grind here is you don’t allow yourself to think grand or long-term thoughts. We’re just sort of plugging along with the [Today] show. I love the show, it’s been part of my life. I can’t speak beyond that.

Guthrie: Steve Burke hasn’t talked to you about a larger role at the company?

Bell: I’m the executive producer of the Today show.

Bell also says Willie Geist will join the 9am hour of “Today” “pretty soon,” but does not characterize Geist as Matt Lauer’s anchor heir.