Viewers and Today staff alike were shocked when anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb delivered the news on Nov. 29 that co-worker Matt Lauer had been fired for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” “We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks,” said a teary Savannah, referencing the #MeToo movement that started amid revolting sexual misconduct accusations by more than 80 women against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?”

There was more surprising news to come. While industry watchers expected the NBC morning show’s ratings to plummet following 20-year veteran Matt’s abrupt departure, Today is actually performing far better than it has in years. With Savannah, 45, and Hoda, 53, at the helm, an average of 4.6 million viewers tuned in during the week of Dec. 4, beating out competitors Good Morning America and CBS This Morning for a second consecutive week — something Matt hadn’t been able to do in some time. It’s a credit to the chemistry and courage of the co-hosts who’ve thrived in the face of adversity. “Savannah and Hoda never thought that they would be this close, but they’ve actually bonded over Matt’s betrayal and departure,” an NBC insider exclusively tells Life & Style. “They’re still hurt, reeling over the details of Matt’s disgusting behavior. He had to go, and now Savannah and Hoda are better friends because of it —and their show is doing better than it was before. Privately, they’re proud of the success.”

hoda kotb, savannah guthrie, al roker, matt lauer 2016

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Viewers aren’t the only ones happy with the shake-up. “The atmosphere on the set without Matt is a lot lighter — people feel like they can breathe,” says the NBC insider. He was known for an aggressive, bullying style when interviewing some celebrities (like his infamous Tom Cruise sit-down in 2005 and, more recently, when he grilled Corey Feldman in October about his sex-abuse claims; the former child star later called the questioning “hostile”). “Matt was a strong presence and definitely cast a shadow,” says the NBC insider. “Now it’s a friendlier feeling. No one is walking on eggshells.”

As the world now knows, Matt was hiding an even darker side. In the days following his ouster from his $25 million-per-year job, lurid allegations emerged. Among them: accusations that the married father of three, 59, had assaulted a fe- male co-worker who passed out during sex with Matt in his locked office, and had given another employee a sex toy with a note describing how he would use it on her. “The horror stories about Matt keep piling up at work, and Savannah and Hoda say it’s all news to them,” says a source. The entire Today family feels betrayed by Matt. “Hoda and Savannah’s side of the story is that Matt was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” adds the source. “They cringe at each new story and allegation.” But they have spoken to their disgraced former co-worker since the scandal. “They have not cut him off,” reveals a Savannah and Hoda insider. “They are hugely disappointed, but they won’t forget how supportive he’s been of them personally.” The anchors both feel conflicted. “I’ve known Matt for 15 years. I’ve loved him as a friend and a colleague,” Hoda said on Nov. 29. “It’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man we know who walks in this building every single day.”

Matt issued an apology the next day, saying, “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by my words and actions.” Matt continued: “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed,” adding, “I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.” Privately, he tried to make amends with some of those people — including Savannah and Hoda. “He has apologized for the position he has put them in,” says a friend. “And he’s offered both of them encouragement.”

A continued relationship isn’t likely, though. “Going forward, they are no longer initiating communication,” notes the friend. “It’s just tricky. They have fond feelings toward Matt, but they now know [about his inappropriate behavior]. As women, that’s hard to reconcile.”

It’s even harder for his wife of 19 years, Annette. The 52-year-old former model was spotted with- out her wedding band soon after the allegations against Matt became public. She’d previously filed for divorce in 2006, claiming Matt was “extremely controlling” and subjected her to “cruel and inhumane treatment.” But she stayed in the marriage for the sake of their kids, Jack, 16, Romy, 14, and Thijs, 11, withdrawing her petition a month later. Now insiders expect her to ditch her husband for good — and journalists, including the Today team, are clamoring for her to tell all. “Of course the big interview to get would be with Annette. Would Savannah or Hoda go after that interview? Absolutely,”says the NBC insider.

Savannah and Hoda are welcoming another woman hurt by Matt: Ann Curry. It’s largely believed that Ann, 61 — who exited Today with an awk- ward, tearful goodbye on live TV in 2012—was forced out by Matt. “There is talk now of bringing

Ann back,” says the Savannah and Hoda insider, adding that roles including special correspondent and co-host fill-in are under consideration. The new Today stars approve. “They’ve always felt Ann was an incredibly likable colleague,” says the source. “They feel there’s a place for her” on the show.

Don’t expect Matt to tune in. “The word is that Matt is not taking the news that Today is thriving in the ratings well at all,” says the source. “It’s believed he is a lonely, beaten man who is ashamed and in exile.”

But the women left to pick up the pieces after his departure are thriving. “They’ve not only held things together since Matt’s firing, but done great work together,” notes a confidant of Savannah and Hoda’s. “They’ve always loved each other, but Savannah and Hoda are spend- ing more time talking when the cameras aren’t rolling than they ever have. Matt’s downfall has forged a deeper friendship between the two.”