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‘Today’ scores its second straight weekly ratings win without Matt Lauer

Savannah Guthrie, left, and Hoda Kotb on the set of NBC's "Today" after the dismissal of Matt Lauer on Nov. 29, 2017.
(Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

If “Today” show fans are missing Matt Lauer, it isn’t showing up in the Nielsen ratings.

NBC’s morning program was the most watched in its slot for the week of Dec. 4-8. It was the second consecutive week that “Today” topped ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The ABC program won all but one week of 2017 before the scandal over Lauer engulfed its competition on NBC.

“Today” averaged 4.6 million viewers, putting it ahead of the 4.4 million for “GMA” and 3.6 million for “CBS This Morning.”

Most morning TV observers anticipated that “Today” would take a hit in its ratings with the departure of Lauer, who was fired on Nov. 28 for inappropriate behavior involving a female employee who filed a complaint against him.

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Instead, the sudden exit of Lauer boosted ratings for “Today” as viewers tuned into to see how NBC’s morning TV family would handle the banishment of one of its longtime members.

The program’s ratings strength for a second week indicates that viewers are still curious about how the backstage drama plays out. It could also be a sign of approval for Hoda Kotb, the longtime co-host of the 10 a.m. hour of “Today,” who has been doing double duty alongside Savannah Guthrie in the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. hours since Lauer’s departure.

Kotb along with Saturday “Today” co-anchor Craig Melvin are considered the leading candidates to fill Lauer’s chair permanently.

If the ratings for “Today” continue to thrive without Lauer, it could lend credence to a theory among some morning TV insiders that the co-anchor was actually starting to drive people away from the broadcast. A TV station consultant, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share the information, said recent research shows that Lauer had become a polarizing figure to viewers.

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Lauer had been getting successive contracts from NBC that paid him more than $20 million a year, largely because network executives feared that the ratings would collapse if he left. The 7-9 a.m. block that Lauer co-anchored since 1997 generates around $500 million a year in ad revenue for NBC.

“CBS This Morning” has also not seen any significant decline in its audience since it fired co-anchor Charlie Rose. Rose was terminated by CBS on Nov. 21 after reports that he had harassed female employees and job applicants at his PBS talk show, which has since been canceled. The network has not named a replacement to join the program’s co-anchors Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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