Matt Lauer, who was fired Wednesday morning as anchor of Today after nearly two decades with the program following an allegation of “inappropriate sexual behavior,” formerly worked in Philadelphia as a host of the ill-fated Channel 10 program Live! On City Line.
Listed as an entertainment talk show, City Line debuted in Sept. 1987 and partnered Lauer, then 29, with the late Sheela Allen-Stephens, who passed away last year. According to an Inquirer article detailing the show’s premiere, City Line served as a “vehicle for showbiz scuttlebutt, fashion pieces, trend stories, celebrity interviews and topical discussion” that aired during late afternoons.
Celebrity interview subjects included Phyllis Diller, Dom DeLuise, Robin Leach, and others. As Lauer told the Inquirer in 1987, the program was “heavily into dirt” and “if it’s dirty … we’ll do it.”
“The guests are all adults who consented to be on the show, so they know what they’re in for,” Lauer said at the time.
That muckraking approach didn’t help the show’s ratings, however, and it was ill-received almost from the start. As former Inquirer TV critic Ken Tucker wrote of the program following its premiere, Live! On City Line featured “all too many teeth gleaming” as hosts Lauer and Allen-Stephens “smile, smile, smile” to “persuade us that they are having the time of their lives.”
Nielsen ratings were a bit of a death knell for the program:
Lauer, however, “certainly seems smart, funny and promising,” as Tucker wrote.
Despite that promise, though, Channel 10 — which was at that time a CBS-affiliated station and is now NBC10 — had decided to retool the program by Nov. 18, 1987, with plans to move it to the morning and changing the format. Allen-Stephens returned to reporting in the regular newscast, according to the Inquirer, while Lauer was asked to stay on as a solo host.
But that same week, City Line was canceled. In total, the program lasted about two months on the air.
“It was too quick, but it was fun,” Lauer told the Inquirer after City Line’s cancellation. “I have no bitterness. The station was very nice about it. They offered me a morning show, but that’s not why I came here. Management is as disappointed with what happened as we were.”
Despite the show’s failure, Lauer called it “good experience” and said that his time there made him “a better interviewer.” However, he did admit that he never got to know Philadelphia due to how short his time here was.
Lauer, however, wasn’t able to shake the bad luck of the cancellation after he left Philly, and ran into a similar situation while working at WNEV-TV in Boston in 1988. Lauer had landed a job at that station hosting Talk of the Town, a program similar in style to City Line. It was similarly canceled after a short run.
“I feel like I’ve got a dark cloud over my head,” Lauer, the 30, told the Inquirer in 1988. “This one’s much more disappointing than Live! on City Line. This show was really working, but the station said it’s in a budget crisis.”
Lauer added that he hoped to work for a network that was seriously pursuing local news. He ended up at WNBC-TV in New York by 1992, leading him to appear in nationally broadcast piece pieces for NBC.
Lauer started on Today as a fill-in anchor for Bryant Gumbel, and was officially named a coanchor in Jan. 1997.
Lauer’s time with Today, however, appears to have ended.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story referred to Live! On City Line as an NBC10 show. At that time, WCAU was still a CBS affiliated station.
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