‘Today’ ratings soar during Matt Lauer chaos

NBC's "Today" show is one of the nation's best-known sources of morning news. But when that news is about "Today" itself, the audience response to the program can be quite surprising.

"Today" for the first time in three months was the nation's most watched morning-news program, defeating its main rival, ABC's "Good Morning America," by more than 539,000 viewers for the five days ending December 1st, or 12.4%. In the prior week, "GMA" won just 110,000 more viewers than "Today."

The NBC program last week attracted an average of 4.9 million viewers, compared with an average of 4.36 million for "GMA" and an average of nearly 3.53 million for CBS' "CBS This Morning."

Much of the surge can likely be attributed to the news – broken first in the early minutes of "Today's" Wednesday, November 29th broadcast – that NBC News terminated veteran anchor Matt Lauer, citing "inappropriate sexual behavior." Viewers were first to see troubled reactions to the news by Lauer's longtime colleagues Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker. Over the next two days, "Today" was early to report on a statement from Lauer, and featured reporting on the matter by NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk.

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Who will replace Matt Lauer?
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Who will replace Matt Lauer?
Ann Curry -- Viewers were shocked and stunned when Curry was tearfully released from "Today" on air in 2012. According to reports, she had a strained relationship with Lauer, who wanted her dismissed. CEO Steve Burke allegedly told Lauer ahead of the firing, “We need to sign you so we can do Ann," and top execs reportedly celebrated with a toast after she was fired. Although it seems unlikely that the network would potentially rehash old wounds by bringing her back, it could be a popular choice with viewers, many of whom have already taken to Twitter to campaign for her resinstatement.
Megyn Kelly -- When it was first announced that she would leave Fox News for NBC, there were multiple reports of a power struggle to determine her time slot. She's now situated two hours after Lauer's 7 AM spot, but amid all the turmoil, it's possible that she'll manage to snag that top seat.
Craig Melvin -- "Today" weekend co-host Craig Melvin certainly stands a strong stance of the big promotion to Lauer's top slot. He's already a familiar face among viewers, but he lacks the negative baggage of Ann Curry or Megyn Kelly.
Willie Geist -- The "Sunday Today" host has filled in for Lauer on multiple occasions. He's seen all across the network's programming, from MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to NBC News and NBC Sports.
Anderson Cooper -- After the drama with Ann Curry unfolded, leading many viewers to express a distaste for Lauer, rumors floated in 2013 that Anderson Cooper had been approached by NBC about replacing him. However, NBC News exec Alex Wallace at the time dismissed the claim, saying, "We want [Lauer] in the ‘Today’ show anchor chair for many years to come."
Keith Olbermann -- He spent 20 years as a sports reporter before moving into political journalism at MSNBC. Just days ago, he announced he would be ending his GQ web show "The Resistance," explaining that he wanted to retire from political commentary: "No illness. No scandal. No firing. Just I've said what I've had to say," he said. However, he didn't say he wanted to actually retire, leaving open the possibility of returning via a different type of program.
Tamron Hall -- This one's pretty unlikely. Hall decided herself to leave the show, much to the disappointment of many viewers and Hall's own colleagues. She reportedly felt burned by treatment of NBC execs, who booted her from her 9 AM time slot in favor of Megyn Kelly. She could return if there's no bad blood, but there almost certainly is.
Carson Daly -- He's already on the NBC payroll as the host of "The Voice," and some took to Twitter on Wednesday to campaign for him to slide into Lauer's seat.
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But "Today" won more viewers than "GMA" on the Monday and Tuesday broadcasts prior to the eruption of interest surrounding the Lauer news, according to data from Nielsen. On Monday and Tuesday, "Today" attracted greater overall viewership than its ABC competitor, as well as more of the viewers advertisers in news programs care about – people between 25 and 54.

The show's audience spiked significantly on Wednesday, when the show captured the interest of 5.74 million viewers, compared with 4.21 million on Tuesday and nearly 4.48 million on Monday. Viewer interest continued for the rest of the week. "Today" captured an average of nearly 5.22 million viewers on Thursday and almost 4.87 million on Friday.

Both NBC and ABC will likely place more scrutiny on this week's audience measures to get a more normalized sense of viewership patterns surrounding the two shows. Season to date, "Good Morning America" is the most-watched morning program TV – but by just a hair. "GMA" has captured an average of 4.329 million viewers this season, compared with 4.27 million for "Today." The difference? A mere 59,000 viewers.

As it has for many months, "Today" continues to lure more viewers between 25 and 54 than its two main rivals. Last week, with the Lauer drama in the background, the difference was more stark. "Today" captured an average of 1.292 million people in the advertiser demo, compared with 972,000 for "GMA" and 684,000 for "CBS This Morning."

Ad buyers have said they do not anticipate an anchor change at "Today" to spur major ratings fluctuations, but rival networks are likely to do what they can to woo NBC's viewers to try something new at a moment of transition. NBC has not set a public timeline to find a replacement for Lauer. Hoda Kotb has been working alongside Savannah Guthrie since Lauer's ouster was announced.

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Today Show Anchors
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Today Show Anchors
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Jenna Bush Hager, Willie Geist and Natalie Morales appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Al Roker and Ryan Phillippe appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist and Natalie Morales appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Al Roker and Natalie Morales with the Harlem Globetrotters appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Moderator Chuck Todd, left, and Willie Geist, 'Today Show' co-host, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Al Roker, Willie Geist and Jamie Oliver appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 03: (L-R) Al Roker, WillIe Geist, Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson, Natalie Morales Carson Daly and Robin Roberts during the TODAY Show at 30 Rockefeller Center on September 03, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales and Al Roker appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, Olympic Mascot from the 2014 Olympics in Socci -- (Photo by: Joe Scarnici/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Usher and Tamron Hall appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 02: Today Show hosts Willie Geist, Natalie Morales and Matt Lauer enjoy themselves when Counting Crows perform on NBC's 'Today' at Rockefeller Plaza on September 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/WireImage)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Al Roker and Vincent Piazza appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Natalie Morales and Usher appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Al Roker and Joshua Jackson appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist, Hoda Kotb, Natalie Morales, Al Roker, Phillip Phillips and Carson Daly appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Maria Celeste, Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, Dylan Dreyer, Carson Daly and Kate Snow appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, and Al Roker appear on the 'Today' show on Thursday, October 31, 2014 -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: (L-R) Carson Daly, Natalie Morales, Willie Geist and Dylan Dreyer speak on stage during NBC's 'Today' at the NBC's TODAY Show on September 1, 2014 in New York, New York. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: (L-R) Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, Adam Levine, PJ Morton, James Valentine, Carson Daly and Willie Geist speak on stage during NBC's 'Today' at the NBC's TODAY Show on September 1, 2014 in New York, New York. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist and Al Roker appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- 08/20/2014 -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Al Roker, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Tamron Hall, Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira, Willie Geist -- (Photo by: Michael Loccisano/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Matt Lauer, Dylan Dreyer and Craig Melvin appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, Dylan Dryer and Carson Daly appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Carson Daly, Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, Dylan Dreyer and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, Al Roker and Ryan Tedder appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Al Roker and Ian Ziering appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist and Tamron Hall appear on the 'Today' show on Thursday, October 31, 2014 -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist, Savannah Guthrie and John Legend appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist and Samantha Guthrie host John Legend's performance on the NBC's TODAY Show on July 10, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Chance Yeh/FilmMagic)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Savannah Guthrie, Bobbie Thomas, Willie Geist and Matt Lauer appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Al Roker (L) and Willie Geist celebrate the launch of TODAY Show Radio at SiriusXM Studios on June 20, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 26: (L-R) Willie Geist, Austin Mahone and Natalie Morales attend on NBC's TODAY Show on May 26, 2014 in New York, New York. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist and Dolly Parton appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Gina Neely, Pat Neely, Willie Geist and Al Roker appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Al Roker, Hoda Kotb, Willie Geist, Kathie Lee Gifford and Natalie Morales appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Willie Geist appears on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist, Mary Sue Milken, Susan Feniger and Tamron Hall appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist and Jeff Goldblum appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Al Roker -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Hoda Kotb, Kathy Lee Gifford, Carson Daly, Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, Tamron Hall -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, Al Roker from the 2014 Olympics in Socci -- (Photo by: Joe Scarnici/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, Al Roker, Dr. Nancy Snyderman from the 2014 Olympics in Socci -- (Photo by: Joe Scarnici/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Al Roker, Natalie Morales, Kathie Lee Gifford and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Al Roker, Maia Shibutani, Alex Shibutani, Natalie Morales, Willie Geist from the 2014 Olympics in Socci -- (Photo by: Joe Scarnici/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist, Natalie Morales and Sarah Paulson appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist, Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie from the 2014 Olympics in Socci -- (Photo by: Joe Scarnici/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Michael White, Willie Geist and Al Roker appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Jenna Bush Hager, Willie Geist and Courtnay Smith appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Hoda Kotb and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Charlie Palmer, Brooke Shields and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tara Lipinski and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Willie Geist and Al Roker appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) NBC News' Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, Al Roker and actor Orlando Bloom appear on NBC News' 'Today' show on December 13, 2013 -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Willie Geist and Al Roker appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales and Willie Geist appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Carson Daly as Officer Jon Baker, Erik Estrada, Al Roker as Mr. T, Kathie Lee Gifford as Wilma Flintstone, Hoda Kotb as Betty Rubble, Natalie Morales as Shirley Feeney, Savannah Guthrie as Laverne De Fazio, Matt Lauer as C.J., Carmen Electra and Willie Geist as David Hasselhoff's Mitchappear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie and Tamron Hall appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Carson Daly, Natalie Morales, Jamie Oliver and Al Roker appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 21: Natalie Morales, Olivia Newton-John and Marlen Lanvin perform during Olivia Newton-John's residency 'Summer Nights' at the Flamingo Las Vegas on August 21, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales and Savannah Guthrie appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Natalie Morales appears on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, Jason Mraz -- (Photo by: Heidi Gutman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Natalie Morales appears on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Al Roker and Natalie Morales appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Hulk Hogan and Natalie Morales appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Natalie Morales from the 2014 Olympics in Socci -- (Photo by: Joe Scarnici/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
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