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Originally published Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:29 PM

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Lauer: NBC's 'Today' will be back on top

Matt Lauer told advertisers Thursday that he wants to get the "Today" show back to being the most watched and least talked about morning show on television, and that he expects to do it.

AP Television Writer

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NEW YORK —

Matt Lauer told advertisers Thursday that he wants to get the "Today" show back to being the most watched and least talked about morning show on television, and that he expects to do it.

The beleaguered morning show host made his pitch at an unfortunately-timed NBC News sales event. "Today" is at low ebb in the ratings and a flurry of media reports has been speculating that Lauer is more of a sinker than a sail.

Lauer's boss, NBC Universal News Group Chairman Pat Fili-Krushel, said about morning television that "we own it and maybe that's why the press is so fascinated by us." She was grouping MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and CNBC's "Squawk Box" in with the "Today" show.

"When you factor in the quality of our audience ... we're really in a league of our own," she said.

ABC's "Good Morning America" has beaten "Today" in the ratings for 29 straight weeks, according to the Nielsen company. And the margin is growing: The last three weeks, which include Robin Roberts' return to "GMA," have represented the ABC show's best stretch since 1994.

On the day that NBC invited advertisers to a luncheon to show off their wares, The New York Times ran a front page article headlined, "At NBC, a Struggle to Revive the Morning Magic."

"From the bottom of my heart, I promise to spend all of my time and energy over the next several months trying to keep Savannah (Guthrie) out of the headlines," Lauer joked about his morning co-host.

The "Today" show has been hurt by the messy firing of former co-host Ann Curry last year. Although NBC News executives insist Lauer had nothing to do with the decision, his popularity has plummeted as many viewers appear to blame him.

Lauer said in an interview with The Daily Beast earlier this week that he had told NBC Universal Chairman Steve Burke last fall that he was willing to leave the show if executives wanted. Burke refused the offer. The two men sat next to each other at Thursday's luncheon.

The "Today" show was once one of the biggest cash cows in television. On Thursday, NBC brought an illusionist in with the "Today" team to entertain the audience of advertisers.

"We do not take your support lightly," Guthrie said.

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