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NBC should be giving thanks for Tom Cruise

The actor's testy exchange with 'Today's' Matt Lauer raises a few chortles -- and could give a lift to the top-rated morning show.

June 27, 2005|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — NBC's "Today" has contributed its share to the recent spate of breathless stories about the suddenly ubiquitous Tom Cruise. The show even has featured a segment called "World Cruise," in which MSNBC anchor Alison Stewart offered cheery dispatches from Tokyo and Paris about the actor's world premiere tour of "War of the Worlds." But on Friday, "Today" co-anchor Matt Lauer shook up the congenial atmosphere of morning television by forcefully challenging the actor's attacks on the use of prescription antidepressants and drugs such as Ritalin.

The resulting exchange clearly riled Cruise -- who has already raised eyebrows with his couch-leaping declarations of love for fiancee Katie Holmes on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and sparked headlines with his televised run-in with a squirt gun-packing prankster in London.

And it was an instant sensation in the blogosphere, where media watchers chortled over the interview.

"Today" weatherman Al Roker even got in the action, taking Cruise to task on the NBC show's blog.

"Just as we should shut up about wondering if Tom's relationship with Katie Holmes is a publicity stunt, Tom oughta pipe down about people he doesn't know about situations he hasn't experienced," Roker wrote. "You're an actor, not a med student."

The ensuing buzz seemed likely to give another lift to the top-rated morning show, which weathered a strong challenge from ABC's "Good Morning America" this spring. But it has recently pulled back into a strong lead. In the week of June 13, amid some of its "World Cruise" coverage, "Today" recorded one of its largest margins over its rival in several months, widening the gap to 732,000 viewers. Ratings for Friday's segment were not available.

The interview started cordially enough, with the usual chitchat about the pressures of celebrity.

But when Lauer pressed Cruise about why he had recently criticized actress Brooke Shields for using antidepressants to combat postpartum depression, the actor grew angry.

At one point, he raised his voice, leaned forward in his chair and pointed angrily at his questioner.

Later in the interview, Cruise accused Lauer of being "glib" and said he should be "a little bit more responsible."

"I'm not prescribing Ritalin, Tom," Lauer responded mildly. "And I'm not asking anyone else to do it. I'm simply saying, I know some people who seem to have been helped by it."

A final part of Lauer's sit-down with Cruise, which was taped in New York on Thursday, airs this morning.

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