Matt Lauer’s flirtation with extreme bodybuilding

Matt Lauer

What’s the connection between Matt Lauer and extreme bodybuilding? It all goes back to his early career—which could have taken a very different turn.

Lauer started as a host, not a journalist. Though he began as a reporter in Huntington, West Virginia, he then worked for PM Magazine, ABC’s Fame, Fortune, and Romance, and hosted Lifetime’s Esquire: About Men, for Women. In 1994, he told the Providence Journal that hosting gigs hadn’t provided the most reliable work. “I’ve had a lot of downtime,” he said. “This is not one of those things that exploded overnight. I’ve been doing this for 14 years. I spent a lot of time when the phone didn’t ring.”

That’s where the bodybuilding comes in. In 1990, wrestling impresario Vince McMahon was putting together the short-lived World Bodybuilding Federation. The idea was to give bodybuilders personality (and high ratings) just like wrestlers. McMahon chose a young Matt Lauer to host the pilot, but reportedly canned him when his “abs weren’t up to snuff.”

Matt Lauer’s career could have taken a very different turn. In 1994, he told the Journal he was “paranoid” hard news types would judge him for his entertainment background. That reputation might have been even harder to shake if he’d hosted the WBF. If Matt had done a few more crunches, he could have hosted bodybuilding instead of Today (for the record, a spokesman assured the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Lauer “doesn’t think it was because of his abs” that he didn’t get the gig).

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