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NBC News' Natalie Morales to have regular role on 'The Marriage Ref'

March 1, 2010 | 11:48 am

NBC worked to harness all of the corporate synergy it could muster to promote its new Jerry Seinfeld comedy-game show, “The Marriage Ref,” teasing it repeatedly during the Olympics and drafting “30 Rock” star Alec Baldwin to serve as a celebrity panelist for the premiere episode.

And another NBC personality made a surprise appearance in Sunday’s premiere: “Today” show anchor and correspondent Natalie Morales, who serves as the show’s “Just the Facts Ma'am.” Morales sits behind a laptop on the stage, reporting tidbits about the issue the couples on the show are fighting about. In the behind-the-scenes video above, she discussed with Seinfeld her role as the “straight guy.”

During a segment Sunday about a man who wants to instill a stripper pole in his house for his wife to use, Morales noted that “pole dancing classes have become very popular as exercise.”

“The information that I’ve found says that pole dancing can burn up to 250 calories an hour,” she added. “It claims it can increase flexibility, improve body awareness and strengthens muscle.”

“And what about for the woman?” quipped host Tom Papa.

NBC said Morales would be a regular on the series, underscoring how little stigma there is now for television reporters to take part in entertainment programming, something once viewed as a threat to journalistic credibility. NBC anchor Brian Williams has had cameos on “30 Rock,” and Meredith Vieira has continued to host “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” since joining the “Today” show in 2006. Julie Chen, anchor of CBS' “The Early Show,” also hosts the reality show "Big Brother."

“Natalie's participation in 'The Marriage Ref' was vetted and approved by NBC News Standards, and it has no effect on her role as an anchor and correspondent for NBC News,” according to a spokeswoman for “Today.”

Still, Time television critic James Poniewozik wrote that Morales “tossed a few shovels of dirt on the casket of TV journalism” with her participation on the show, which he savaged as “God-awful.”

He wasn’t alone in his reaction to the series, which drew largely scathing reviews. “After seeing the ‘special sneak preview’ of ‘The Marriage Ref’ Sunday night, I am thinking maybe Jay Leno in prime time wasn't such a bad idea after all,” wrote David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun.

Still, with the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics as a lead-in, the show attracted a healthy 14.6-million viewers for its Sunday premiere. “The Marriage Ref” will move to its regular Thursday 10 p.m. time slot on March 4.

-- Matea Gold