Matt Lauer, who was fired by NBC on Wednesday over a sexual harassment allegation, was one of the network’s most high-profile journalists and the face of one of its most valuable programs, “Today,” since the mid-1990s.
Mr. Lauer spent 21 years at “Today,” the longest tenure for the show, and was often at the center of rumored tension among other anchors on the program. In his role, he led NBC’s coverage during major news events, including on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and engaged in memorable interviews, such as his combative questioning of Tom Cruise in 2005.
After several years as the news reader on “Today,” Mr. Lauer replaced Bryant Gumbel as the co-anchor on Jan. 6, 1997. His first week was full of jitters and awkwardness, but those five days were the second-best-rated week in the show’s history at the time.
Jeff Zucker, then the executive producer of “Today,” called Mr. Lauer “the hunk next door.” He added, “It’s great for us that women are attracted to him. But that wouldn’t work, and Matt wouldn’t succeed, if he couldn’t do the job.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Lauer was talking to the writer Richard Hack about a new Howard Hughes biography. The interview stopped, and Mr. Lauer said he had a photograph to show viewers, but after a technical problem, he said he would discuss the breaking news after a commercial break.
When the show returned, Mr. Lauer was seated next to Ms. Couric, and the pair began to figure out on air what had just happened in Lower Manhattan.
The actor Tom Cruise joined “Today” to discuss his new movie, “War of the Worlds,” with Mr. Lauer. For about eight minutes, they discussed the movie and the actor’s religion, Scientology. But then Mr. Lauer, cutting away from the pretaped interview, said the second part of their discussion “gets a little testy” and “the mood changes a bit.”
What followed became a viral video hit before the days of YouTube and Twitter. “Just knowing people who are on Ritalin isn’t enough,” Mr. Cruise told him, pointing a finger, before engaging in an attack on psychiatry. “You should be a little bit more responsible —”
“I’m not prescribing Ritalin, Tom,” Mr. Lauer fired back.
During Mr. Lauer’s years on the show, he remained one of the few steady parts in a revolving door of new reporters and anchors. But no transition turned more tense and awkward — or filled more New York tabloid pages with rumors of infighting on the show — than the promotion of Ann Curry in 2011 as co-anchor alongside Mr. Lauer.
Her stint was very brief, with only a year on the “Today” show set before she was pushed out in June 2012 after ABC’s “Good Morning America” gained ground in the ratings. Ms. Curry signed off in a tearful goodbye as her co-hosts looked on.
A few months after her departure, The New York Times interviewed Ms. Curry about what unfolded during her brief time next to Mr. Lauer:
The actress Anne Hathaway was interviewed in December 2012 to discuss her new movie, “Les Miserables,” for which she later won an Oscar for best supporting actress. The day before her interview, some celebrity gossip sites had published an upskirt photo of Ms. Hathaway exiting a car.
“Seen a lot of you lately,” Mr. Lauer said as he began the interview.
He continues, “Let’s just get it out of the way. You had a little bit of a wardrobe malfunction the other night.” Ms. Hathaway was praised for her response.
Mr. Lauer was the host of one of the major presidential forums in 2016 between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton. During the one-hour debate, Mr. Lauer interviewed the candidates separately, and he was criticized for asking softer questions to Mr. Trump while he spent considerable time pressing Ms. Clinton about her use of a private email server.
“Mr. Lauer found himself besieged on Wednesday evening by critics of all political stripes, who accused the anchor of unfairness, sloppiness and even sexism in his handling of the event,” The Times wrote afterward.
Mr. Lauer’s latest co-host, Savannah Guthrie, began the show on Wednesday appearing to be fighting back tears. Next to her behind the anchor desk was not Mr. Lauer but Hoda Kotb.
“This is a sad morning here at ‘Today’ and NBC News,” Ms. Guthrie said at the show’s opening.