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TODAY Show Boss Defends Embattled Host Matt Lauer: ‘This Staff Loves Him’

Matt Lauer might be on the ropes, but at least he’s got the right man in his corner.

Namely, TODAY show executive producer Don Nash, who tells TV Guide that NBC’s morning program, reeling after months of defeat at the hands of Good Morning America, “could be much worse without” the beleaguered host.

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Nash said there have been misconceptions that Lauer’s tarnished image is hurting the show’s bottom line, citing a recent focus group of female morning show viewers who said they’d quit watching NBC’s morning show if the 55-year-old anchor left.

“Their opinions didn’t square with what we had been reading in the papers and on websites,” Nash said.

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Nash denied that the TODAY show workforce has turned against its’ biggest name, saying, “I can tell you unequivocally that the staff is not divided over whether Matt should stay or go — this staff loves Matt.”

Nash took a diplomatic approach when asked about rumors Anderson Cooper could be in the running for Lauer’s position should the TODAY show’s ratings continue to slip.

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“We hope Matt stays forever, but you’re always looking for talent because you want the person to grow into the job and you want some time to groom them,” he said.

Lauer has recently caught flak for a ratings-grabbing bids such as a chat with Joe Paterno apologist John Ziegler, who appeared on the show boasting new audio with convicted serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky; and an interview with convicted woman beater Chris Brown, in which some said Lauer was too friendly in tone.

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In spite of the recent struggles, Nash said he’s optimistic things are moving in the right direction, and squarely focused on knocking GMA out of first-place.

“I told my staff, ‘The best answer to all this negative press and this whirlwind of criticism is to win,'” Nash said. “So each and every day, we’re putting on the best morning show that we can.”