Why NBCUniversal's Steve Burke Defended Matt Lauer

Matt Lauer White Silo - P 2013
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Matt Lauer White Silo - P 2013

A version of this story appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When NBC’s Matt Lauer finally addressed the fallout from Ann Curry’s Today ouster in a March 11 profile written by Daily Beast Washington bureau chief Howard Kurtz, some insiders were surprised to see NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke featured prominently.

“You’re the best person who’s ever done this,” Burke is quoted as having told Lauer when the anchor offered to resign if it would help the show. “We’ll get through this.”

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Burke was intimately involved in shepherding Lauer's new $25 million-a-year contract last year, as The Hollywood Reporter reported. Sources say Lauer mentioned the upcoming Beast story to Burke when the chief executive called Lauer to bat down a Feb. 28 report in the New York Daily News purporting that replacing Lauer was “seriously on the table.” Burke felt compelled to participate, say these sources, because as the company’s CEO, he could have overruled the June decision to move Curry off of the program. 

The timing of the story also raised eyebrows, coming nine months after the awkward transition from Curry to Savannah Guthrie. But Kurtz had been pursuing Lauer since last fall.

“He wanted to wait until significant changes had taken place at the Today show,” Kurtz tells THR, adding that Lauer was not “opposed to talking about what happened over the last year, but he wanted to look forward and talk about how the show could make a comeback.”

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Ultimately Lauer's decision to break his silence came down to another feature in the works: a New York magazine story slated for the coming weeks. And Lauer, say sources, felt compelled to honor his commitment to give Kurtz the first interview.