Today Producer Shields Matt Lauer From Ann Curry Criticism

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Photo: Peter Kramer/NBC

After sixteen straight years of losing, ABC's Good Morning America has been steadily beating NBC's Today in the ratings, even well after Ann Curry's awkward departure as host. Following some finger-pointing gossip aimed mostly at "anchor animal" Matt Lauer, the once-dominant morning show has responded with a press offensive, in which executive producer Jim Bell puts himself in the line of fire, squarely in front of the network's $25 million man. "It was definitely not Matt's call," Bell insisted to the Times about firing Curry. "He is the host and does not have management responsibility. It was not his call. That was my call."

In addition to "[c]ommenting publicly for the first time" to the Times, Bell also "breaks his silence about the transition" to the Hollywood Reporter today and chatted with TV Guide, too, for good measure. "I think Matt has been unfairly targeted here as somebody who bares some responsibility for the change," Bell said. "I made the change."

In other words (and at the risk of protesting too much): "Matt, I need to say for the record, really should not bear any of the blame for that," Bell repeated. "I'm the executive producer of the show. He's not." Got it? Good.