The news over at NBC's Today show keeps getting worse.
Ann Curry's controversial dismissal and quickie replacement by Savannah Guthrie not only failed to build viewership back up, it led to the biggest ratings bloodbath of the show's history.
Now comes word that long-time host Matt Lauer was this close to jumping ship to rival ABC last year after Ryan Seacrest was reportedly in talks to replace him. A scathing new New York magazine cover story digs into in-fighting and other problems at the Peacock's once-burgeoning flagship. Lauer bears the brunt of the criticism, being portrayed as a calculating opportunist who "simply didn't like" Curry.
It's not surprising that everyone's looking for a scapegoat. In late February, rival Good Morning America topped the ratings. But Today wasn't just pushed to the No. 2 spot. It lost out to local morning show Good Day New York in local ratings. Ouch.
But pointing fingers won't solve the problem. Instead, here are some suggestions for how to fix the ailing morning show:
1. Let Matt leave and host Jeopardy! as it's been rumored. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who says Lauer is a bad host. But he's damaged goods. The viewers have turned against him and it's unlikely they'll come back without some major moves.
2. Stop using Al Roker for hard news. I love the weatherman as much as the next person. But Today has an issue with putting people into positions they're not meant for (Ann Curry was a top-notch news reader; not a great perky host). Al Roker is a world-class weather guy. Don't make him something he's not.
3. Don't push 'perky.' There's nothing more awkward than someone trying to act perky.
The best hosts have a little bite. Diane Sawyer and Meredith Vieira could do fun segments but weren't afraid to have a strong opinion.
Be witty and light-hearted. But understand that 'cutesy' died in 2006 when Katie Couric left.
4. Hire Soledad O'Brien. O'Brien is leaving CNN to work on documentaries. Scoop her up while you can. Not many hosts can be as comfortable talking about the debt ceiling as they can interviewing 50 Cent. O'Brien can do fun banter with the best of them but also isn't afraid to ask the tough questions.
5. Stop hiding. Lauer only recently admitted that he thought the show didn't handle Curry's firing very well. It's a step in the right direction. But we need more.
Celebrities and big brands think that silence will make a rumor go away. Trust me: I was a celebrity magazine editor for nearly a decade. Silence doesn't work. When it comes to a big story, "no comment" only sparks suspicion and makes reporters want to dig harder.
6. Rename Hoda and Kathie Lee's hour of Today to Kathie & Hoda Live. The Today brand is confused enough as it is.
Follow Michelle Lee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hwmichellelee