Matt Lauer on CNN: Katie’s Newscast Could Still Be a Smash....Like M*A*S*H

June 14th, 2007 6:14 AM

On Wednesday night’s "Larry King Live," NBC’s Matt Lauer tried to play the politician in the middle of the Rather vs. Couric publicity feud, stressing his "great respect" for the disgraced Rather and how this is "inside baseball" that most Americans don’t care about. (Yeah, right.) But his attempt to please everyone grew ridiculous when he called Katie’s increasingly historic ratings lows part of a "normal feeling-out period" and that some times, it takes time for a program to be a big hit: "I mean look at the history of some of the shows in primetime that went on to become huge successes, like 'M*A*S*H' and 'Cheers,' and things like that, where in the beginning they were -- you know what, they fell flat."

Let’s hope Katie gives him credit to Matt for his willingness to look silly on her behalf, as the entertainment equivalents of her "Evening News" stint might be more like "Cop Rock." A flop.

Lauer went on the King show to plug NBC's upcoming overcoverage of the tenth anniversary of Lady Di's death, and he interviewed Prince William and Prince Harry, which he found odd, since he claimed he's not a royal-watcher. Here’s the relevant part of the transcript:

LAUER: You know I like Dan Rather a lot and I have always respected him. I was a fan of his when he was on the air. I'm not sure what the upside is for Dan Rather to be making comments about this. I don't know. I think it's a lose/lose situation. I think the words he chose in his original statement were probably poorly chosen. I don't think you use some of the words he did in connection with Katie or that broadcast. I think the controversy is an inside baseball controversy when it comes right down to it. I think we're interested in it.

KING: Ohio doesn't care?

LAUER: I don't think so. I mean I think you'll find it on a lot of media websites. I think you'll find it being talked about in this cafeterias in this building and at NBC. And it's clearly at CBS. But I don't think that what Dan Rather says or what Les Moonves says is going to make a difference to someone sitting in Middle America. I don't think so.

KING: Do you take offense that Dan would refer to the "Today Show" effect on the "CBS Evening News" as dumbing it down?

LAUER: No. I mean if that was his intention to relate dumbing it down to the "Today Show," then, you know, do I take offense? I go back to my original statement, Larry, is I'm not sure what the upside is for Dan Rather being removed from the situation right now to make that kind of comment. But again I have great respect for him. I'm not sure what caused him to do it.

KING: Do you think he still might be angry?

LAUER: I mean I think a lot of people who listened to the comments and who read the articles in the paper that both you and I have read might attach that meaning to it, that maybe there's bitterness there. But again I think it's time to move on. And I think, you know, enough has been said about Katie. You know she's a friend of mine and someone I worked with for, you know, more than 10 years.

KING: Terrific girl.

LAUER: Terrific. And you know I think there's something that's been unfair in dealing with this situation over there is -- and I spoke to Katie a lot before she left, but after it was known that she was going to CBS and I do not -- I never got the feeling from Katie that she thought she was going to go over there and change the game like this, that the playing field would just be turned upside down. I think she thought -- as a matter of fact she said this to me on a number of occasions, this was going to be a long process and there were going to be advances and setbacks. And so I don't think she ascribed to the hype that was attached to her move. And as a result I don't think she should be penalized for what is, I think, a normal feeling out period.

KING: Do you think CBS will stay the course with her?

LAUER: I don't know. I can't read their minds.

KING: You never know about management.

LAUER: You never do. And I hope they do and I hope they give the show a fair shot because any of us who works in this business, none of us wants to be the victim of a knee-jerk reaction. You know there's some things that just take time. I mean look at the history of some of the shows in primetime that went on to become huge successes like, "M*A*S*H" and "Cheers," and things like that, where in the beginning they were -- you know what, they fell flat.

KING: "60 Minutes."

LAUER: "60 Minutes." You know, let's give somebody a chance and let's not -- but above all, let's not make it personal.