“I would like to tackle what might be a teeny white elephant in the room. We all love covering the news, we hate being the news,” he said on stage at the New York Public Library’s Celeste Bartos Forum, where he was joined by co-host Savannah Guthrie. “I promise to spend all of my time and energy over the next several months trying to keep Savannah out of the headlines.”
The joke, of course, is that it’s Lauer who’s been getting the wrong kind of attention recently, culminating with an ill-timed front-page story in Thursday’s New York Times about his plummeting popularity.
But if the bad press had him blue, Lauer wasn’t letting on. He put on a brave face at the presentation, joking that “we want to go back to the most-watched morning program and the least-talked about morning program.”
NBC Universal News chairman Pat Fili-Krushel likewise stressed “Today” in her remarks at the luncheon, pointing out the months of work put into “evolving” the ailing cash cow. “We are really pleased with the direction it’s headed,” she said, boasting that with “Today,” MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” they “own” morning television.
“Maybe that's why the press is so fascinated by us,” she added.
In a pointed pitch to the media buyers in attendance, Fili-Krushel countered the conventional wisdom that the evening news is for old folks, noting that more young people watch Brian Williams on “The NBC Nightly News” than tune in to “The Daily Show.”
Speaking of young, Fili-Krushel expressed enthusiasm over the day’s other big development: The announcement that MSNBC’s wonky and fresh-faced weekend host Chris Hayes would be moving to primetime on weeknights, where he will replace the blustery Ed Schultz.
The presentation also included a lengthy comedic bit by “Morning Joe” odd couple Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and a roundtable conversation about the state of American politics and the economy among personalities from across the NBC Universal News group: David Gregory, Chris Matthews, Alex Wagner, Maria Bartiromo and Carl Quintanilla.
The lunch ended with a demonstration that was part entertainment, part winking reference to the not-so-hidden agenda of all upfronts: With help from Lauer and Guthrie, famed pickpocket Apollo Robbins lifted a wallet from one of the many suit-wearing men in the room.