Al Roker and Matt Lauer
Matt Lauer and Al Roker created a classic Today moment during the 2006 Winter Olympics when they loaded themselves into a two-person luge. Will they don the spandex uniforms again, this time in Sochi, Russia, for NBC's coverage of the games?
"I don't know if America is clamoring for that," Roker says. But there's no doubt the morning program wants a similar buzz-worthy visual from the network's 18 days of Olympics programming — not to mention the same kind of ratings gold.
Today hasn't topped ABC's Good Morning America in the weekly ratings race since August 2012, when NBC broadcast the Summer Olympics in London. Once the Today team returned home, viewers fled in the aftermath of Ann Curry's messy departure (the gap is beginning to close again with the help of NBC's improved primetime performance). The Today crew isn't making any predictions about scoring a win with viewers during the Sochi trip — although privately, ABC News expects GMA to take the silver while NBC is in Olympics mode — but broadcasting live from Olympic Park gives Today access to the athletes and an inside track on breaking news. "The athletes can literally walk out of the venue and onto our set," says executive producer Don Nash.
Today hopes new viewers will sample the team of Lauer, Roker, Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales and Willie Geist and will stick around in the weeks and months that follow. "It's a great opportunity to show off to a large audience what we've been up to lately," says Geist, who will also file reports for NBC Sports during the Games.
They welcome the added exposure, says Lauer, who believes the expanded cast has achieved the kind of harmonious on-screen relationship that viewers look for in morning television. "People are going to find out that we're having fun, that we click," he says. "At the moment I think our show is looking and feeling as good as it has in five or 10 years."
His colleagues agree. "We feel there is a good energy between us," Guthrie says. "The best legacy of the Today show is that balance of news, fun and emotional fare. We're finding that balance again." News anchor Morales adds, "I've never loved coming to work more."
Lauer will begin anchoring from Sochi on February 3; the full team arrives February 10 to broadcast three hours live each day. (Carson Daly won't make the trip due to his hosting commitments at The Voice). Former Today coanchor Meredith Vieira will return to contribute reports and co-host the opening ceremonies with Lauer and Bob Costas of NBC Sports. The Today team is already at work on profiles of the top competitors from the American team. As for creating spontaneous moments in the spirit of that famous luge ride, Guthrie makes one guarantee: "I solemnly swear to the American people that I will not wear spandex."
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