Throwback to an article I wrote when I first started at Philly Mag. I’m a big believer in helping those who help you. Matt Lauer helped me get started in my career, and I will always be thankful for that.
“Last Saturday night, my husband and I had some friends over for a little dinner party. When the conversation shifted from innocuous topics—colleges their oldest daughter is applying to, trips we should all take together—to morning television, I held my breath and hoped there wouldn’t be any Matt Lauer bashing. Unfortunately, that didn’t work.
Not knowing that I started my career in morning TV, our friend started talking about how she doesn’t watch the Today Show because she doesn’t like that Matt Lauer anymore. Her statement, combined with the numerous articles I’ve reading vilifying Matt Lauer and blaming him for Today’s declining ratings, or portraying him as the culprit who got Ann Curry fired, really struck a nerve with me.
Do these people even know Matt Lauer? is my first thought. My friend certainly didn’t. And while I admit that I haven’t spoken to Matt Lauer in almost 10 years, I have concrete memories from the day when I was lucky enough to be the NBC page on Today: memories of Matt saying good morning to each and every cast and crew member (by name) at the raw hour of 5:30 or 6 a.m., memories of Matt being extremely jovial while calming down the nervous guests awaiting their live-television debuts.
I remember Matt Lauer taking the time out of his incredibly busy day filled with political leaders, celebrities and breaking news, to meet with a just-out-of college, clueless, wide-eyed NBC page to discuss my career path and goals. And I know I was not the only fresh-faced, career-aspiring page he met with, because when I sat down in his office, he immediately joked, “Please tell me you don’t want to be on air.” It makes sense that the majority of neophytes in the industry were seeking out his advice on the best way to advance their reporting careers, but I just wanted some guidance from someone I really respected.
My tenure at Today was during the show’s “Summer Concert Series,” and since I was extremely passionate about music, my goal was to work at a record label. I met with Matt (or, as I thought of him then, Mr. Lauer), and after speaking about my family and background, I told him about my goal. I remember he asked if my parents would be OK with me staying in New York City since they lived in a Philly suburb. At the time I thought that was a silly question because the two cities are so close, but I guess it was the father in him thinking about how he would feel if his daughter left to work in a tough city in a tough industry.
He offered to call some of his contacts at various record labels to see what he could do. Later, when I got a job interview, the publicist I was meeting with was on the phone when I arrived. She gestured to me and winked while speaking into the phone, “Sure, thanks so much for calling, Matt. I’m excited to meet Elyse.” He had followed through—not only by putting me in touch with his contacts, but also by making a phone call before my interview. I got the job, and my career was under way.
I understand that people and situations can change in 10 years. And I can honestly say that since I now work in Philadelphia and no longer at NBC in New York, I have absolutely no idea what goes on behind closed doors at 30 Rock. But since I was lucky enough to have help early on in my career, I’ve always wanted to pay it forward and help jumpstart other new graduates’ careers. In this case, I’m paying it backwards. As you read all the articles and opinion pieces skewering Mr. Lauer, I hope that if you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him personally, you’ll remember: There are two sides to every story.”