Last night The Wall Street Journal broke the news that NBC chief executives — including TODAY Show Executive Producer Jim Bell, NBC News President Steve Capus, and NBC News Senior Vice President for Marketing and Communications, Lauren Kapp — met with Ryan Seacrest on Tuesday evening in a joint effort to convince him to accept their lucrative offer of replacing Matt Lauer as host of The TODAY Show when Lauer’s contract expires next year.
The negotiations are preliminary, and are not unusual considering NBC execs must find a worthy replacement should Matt Lauer decide not to renew his contract. Mr. Lauer, who has occupied the TODAY co-anchor chair since 1997, has become a stabilizing force over the last decade, especially through the show’s sweeping anchor transformations on the female side, from Katie Couric to Ann Curry, who took over for Meredith Vieira in June. Earlier this year, Lauer began hinting that he was seriously considering leaving the show in order to pursue new opportunities, and for NBC this is an incredibly delicate situation. In today’s media landscape, big properties like TODAY are increasingly important to the television divisions of media conglomerates. As audiences fragment, morning shows are one of the few kinds of programming besides sports that draw large, loyal audiences. While NBC has struggled to turn around its nighttime lineup, TODAY brought in $535 million in advertising revenue in 2010, up 5.6% from a year earlier, according to estimates provided by Kantar Media. And a huge reason for this success is the undeniable “comfort factor”of the TODAY Show, and the chemistry between the anchors which has been very carefully transitioned through the years. Replacing two TODAY Show anchors in less than a year, however, is nothing short of a nightmare for the show’s executives. Choosing Ann Curry to replace Vieira was a no-brainer — she has been part of the team for nearly twenty years and is one of the most accomplished broadcast journalists in the world — but behind Lauer’s back lies no such compelling backup. When dealing with a brand as old and trusted as TODAY, too much immediate change is akin to a major earthquake, and can easily do major damage and result in a serious loss of loyalty among viewers. In order to prevent an earthquake you need someone with the charisma, the trust and the skill to fill shoes as big as Matt Lauer’s, and Ryan Seacrest is nothing short of a brilliant choice.
Mr. Seacrest currently hosts and produces a daily news show on NBCUniversal’s E! Network, as well as E!’s red-carpet specials. E! also plays home to his TV-production company. His deal with NBCUniversal expires in early 2012. The meeting about the TODAY Show was part of a series of discussions that ComcastCorp. (which took a majority stake in NBCUniversal earlier this year) has been having with Mr. Seacrest over the past few months about enhancing his role at the company, according to people familiar with the matter. When The Wall Street Journal contacted a spokeswoman for Mr. Seacrest, they declined to comment on the TODAY Show talks, but did admit that negotiations with NBCUniversal about Mr. Seacrest’s deal are ongoing. NBC declined to comment to WSJ, and Mr. Lauer’s agent didn’t return their calls.
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