Thumbs Down to Matt Lauer's New Look

06/19/2002 AT 01:00 PM EDT

Matt Lauer's closely cropped new haircut, revealed to a breakout of giggles from his cohost Katie Couric on Monday's "Today" show, is meeting with less-than-favorable reactions. To put it mildly. The clip job only emphasizes his receding hairline and outbreak of gray and is unflattering to the onetime morning hunk, notes several outraged "Today" loyalists who have contacted PEOPLE.com. "Is he ill?" worriedly asked one in an e-mail, while "He looks awful" appears to be the general consensus. On Monday, when Lauer, 44, first came on camera, he quickly quipped to Couric (as, elsewhere in the studio, guffaws could be heard off-camera): "Today is the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, so I'm sporting the H.R. Haldemann look." (Haldemann was President's Nixon's crew-cutted chief of staff.) He also cited the fact that it's nearly summer. Whatever the reason, apparently PEOPLE.com readers aren't the only ones complaining. Lauer's NBC colleague, Tom Brokaw, 62, joked to TV's "Access Hollywood" on Tuesday night, "My question to Matt Lauer is, 'What was the bet?' I mean, he had to have lost a bet." The "Nightly News" anchor went on to say, "I want the name of his barber, only because I want to make sure I don't go to him." In response to it all, Lauer, admitting he's losing his hair, prepared a statement, which NBC read to the New York Post. "I've always believed that the best defense is offense," he said. "I was just trying to beat Mother Nature to the punch."

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