- - Thursday, September 27, 2012

The “Today” show’s top producer on Wednesday defended Matt Lauer against stories that have portrayed the anchor as difficult to deal with during the show’s slide in the ratings.

The longtime morning champ has slipped behind ABC’s “Good Morning America” in the ratings in recent months after more than 15 years of being the unquestioned leader in the morning. The new ratings order has solidified since Ann Curry’s tearful exit as Mr. Lauer’s co-host in June.

“Matt has been the heart and soul of the show for a long, long time, and any of the stuff out that has portrayed him in an unflattering light as being difficult to work with is patently false and it’s been tough to deal with,” executive producer Jim Bell said. One tabloid report last week described Mr. Lauer as an “anchor animal” who berates the staff and inserts himself into show decisions, which Mr. Bell described as “patently false.” He also denied an online report that Mr. Lauer would be asked to take a pay cut if the show’s ratings don’t improve. “Today” also consistently has shot down stories that Mr. Lauer played a behind-the-scenes role in Savannah Guthrie’s replacement of Ms. Curry.

Asked if viewers were taking Ms. Curry’s dismissal out on “Today,” Mr. Bell said, “It’s more complex than that.”

“Any time there is a change, especially in the morning, it takes a while for people to process that change, and we’re still going through that,” Mr. Bell said.

“Today” has taken pride in seamless anchor transitions in the past, such as when Meredith Vieira replaced Katie Couric, Ms. Curry replaced Ms. Vieira and Mr. Lauer took over for Bryant Gumbel. This one hasn’t worked, at least for now.

Mr. Bell denied reports that he would leave “Today” for another job at NBC, saying “this is the best job in the world.”

Comcast, NBCUniversal get behind zeebox app

Comcast Corp. and its NBCUniversal Media LLC subsidiary are taking a stake in zeebox, the maker of a so-called “second screen” app that people can fiddle with on mobile devices while they watch TV.

The cable giant isn’t saying how much it is putting into the company, but executives said that starting next month it will start advertising how zeebox will be integrated into its shows, the Associated Press reports.

The app gives users information about people and products that appear in shows, allows users to see what their Facebook friends are watching and points users to iTunes so they can buy songs that come up during singing shows such as NBC’s “The Voice.”

The idea is that if viewers are more engaged with shows, they’ll keep coming back for more. The second screen also gives TV networks another opportunity to raise advertising revenue.

Zeebox, which launched in Britain last year, is one of many similar apps like Viggle or Yahoo’s IntoNow that take advantage of the fact that many people watch TV with their mobile phone or tablet computer in hand.

Instead of making you poke around the Internet for random information, zeebox picks up audio clues and automatically identifies and syncs up with the show. That way, information specific to the program is offered up in real time.

Seinfeld, Richards reunite for ‘Comedians Getting Coffee’

For two old TV neighbors, all that’s needed for a therapeutic reunion is a ride and a cup of Joe.

On an emotional season finale of Jerry Seinfeld’s Web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Michael Richards recalls the infamous heckling incident in 2006 that he says “broke me down.” The episode, which was shared with the Associated Press ahead of its online premiere Thursday evening, is a cathartic get-together for Mr. Richards, whose Kramer was hardly separated from Mr. Seinfeld by a door in the nine years of “Seinfeld.”

It’s one of the few times Mr. Richards has appeared in anything since he answered a heckler with racist slurs during a stand-up routine. Years later, Mr. Richards clearly is still scarred from the incident, for which he has repeatedly apologized and which essentially caused his withdrawal from show business.

“I busted up after that event seven years ago,” Mr. Richards tells Mr. Seinfeld over a cup of coffee in Los Angeles. “It broke me down. It was a selfish response. I took it too personally. I should have just said, ‘Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’m not funny.’”

The title of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” relates its simple premise: Mr. Seinfeld, an avid automobile collector, picks up his guest in a car befitting the guest’s personality. For Mr. Richards, Mr. Seinfeld selected a rusty 1962 VW bus with an interior patched together by duct tape.

Mr. Seinfeld launched the series with little fanfare, letting it pop up on the Internet on its own site, on Facebook and on the Sony Corp.-owned digital network Crackle. With guests including Ricky Gervais and Alec Baldwin, the 15-minute episodes offer a stylized snapshot of comedians in conversation. One guest, “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David, observed that Mr. Seinfeld had “finally done a show about nothing.”

But the heartfelt and tender episode with Mr. Richards is an exception. It begins, though, with Mr. Richards exuberant about being back together with his old co-star. (In 2009, both also joined in the “Seinfeld” reunion on Mr. David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”)

“Being around you, Jerry, I’m going to turn into that crazy character,” says Mr. Richards, who later adds that he could have played Kramer “for the rest of my life.”

Compiled from Web and wire reports

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