"Today" co-host Matt Lauer almost left NBC for a move to ABC last year, reports New York Magazine in a lengthy story about the morning program.
Lauer’s near departure happened around the time that former “Today” co-host Ann Curry was pushed out of the show, according to the story.
"And at the moment they informed him of Curry’s exit, Lauer himself appeared halfway out the door. Three months earlier, Lauer had been angered by a press leak that [NBC News President Steve] Capus and ['Today' executive producer Jim] Bell were talking to Ryan Seacrest about possibly replacing him," the article says.
It continues: "In trying to placate Lauer, [NBCU Chief Executive Steve] Burke had given him a window to explore other jobs, but they made it clear that Seacrest was really just an insurance policy; they didn’t want Lauer to leave. But Lauer, possibly as a negotiating tactic, was taking leaving pretty seriously. He’d begun working closely with [former 'Today' producer Jeff] Zucker to develop an idea for ABC: the Katie Couric daytime talk show with Matt Lauer — together again. Lauer met with Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, ABC’s parent company, who made a strong effort to recruit Lauer."
The idea was that "Today," without Lauer, would fall from its ratings dominance, allowing "Good Morning America" to succeed in the morning race for viewers, the story notes.
The plan didn’t work out the way ABC had hoped, however.
"What happened next would color everything that happened after: For a few days in late March, Iger, Zucker, and [ABC News President Ben] Sherwood all believed they had been told by both Lauer and his agent, Ken Linder, that Lauer was coming to ABC. In their minds, the deal was done, with only the legalities to be worked out. But the following week, Lauer surprised them all by calling and saying thanks but no thanks. Iger was infuriated, as was Zucker. Sherwood would not soon forget: In the months to come, he would spend an inordinate amount of time poking at Lauer and reveling in Schadenfreude."
Why did the ABC deal fall apart? Lauer had gone back to NBC and renegotiated his contract, with a new deal that the story says was for "more money than any morning-news anchor had ever received in the history of television: a reported $25 million a year to work four days a week."