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TV Column
Posted at 08:44 PM ET, 04/01/2012

‘Today’ books Sarah Palin, “big announcement” from Ryan Seacrest against ‘GMA’s’ Katie Couric


Sarah Palin (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)
NBC’s “Today” show producers and bookers, working madly to keep Katie Couric from breaking their more than 16-year weekly ratings winner streak, have lined up Sarah Palin to co-host on Tuesday, and “a surprise legend” to return to the broadcast Monday — and a “big NBC announcement” from Ryan Seacrest Tuesday.

Couric, remember, is credited/blamed with embarrassing Palin and the Sen. John McCain presidential campaign, when she interviewed Palin on the “CBS Evening News” and asked Palin what newspapers she read for information; Palin failed to name one newspaper.

(Read updates from the TV Column’s live blog of Katie Couric’s return to morning TV here.)

Meanwhile, “Today” show executive producer Jim Bell tweeted Sunday evening: “Tuesday morning live on the TODAY show in Studio 1A, Ryan Seacrest will make a big NBC announcement.” Since December, when The Reporters Who Cover Television were jolted out of their post-November sweeps slumber when NBC News suits were spotted dining with Seacrest, there’s been an anticipatory frenzy, in re whether Seacrest would become a co-anchor on ”Today” or play some other major role on the morning infotainment show. Talks with current co-anchor Matt Lauer have slogged on for ages, and current speculation has co-anchor Ann Curry’s future on the show looking iffy.

NBC is owned by Comcast, which also owns E! — home of the Seacrest-starring vehicle “E! News,” as well as all those Seacrest-produced Kardashian ratings-magnets. Seacrest’s contract with Comcast expires early this year. Which would be — oh, now — and Comcast is extremely motivated to make ratings-magnet Seacrest very happy. Meanwhile, Seacrest has been spiffing up his image lately, wearing three-piece suits every week while hosting Fox’s “American Idol.” Coincidence? Ha!

Of course, Seacrest might only be announcing Lauer has been re-upped. But, of course the exec producers not Tweeting, because they want you to watch “Today” show Tuesday to find out — and not watch Couric in “GMA.”

“Have a guess? Tell us on Facebook,” the promoters of “Today” show suggest, hoping to gin up interest in Monday’s “surprise legend.” Among the guesses we saw Sunday included: a descendant of “Today’s” famous founding co-anchor chimp “J. Fred Muggs, any old chimp dressed up as Katie Couric, John Legend (too obvious, not to mention lame), Meredith Vieira, Bryant Gumbel, Jane Pauley, and – dullest/most likely of all – NBC “Saturday Night Live” alum Will Ferrell in character as Ron Burgundy — a gag he already wore out on Conan’s late-night show last week, when he visited in-character to announce the sequel to “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”

Whoever is the surprise guest, he/she will also battle Oprah Winfrey, who is Monday’s big get for CBS’s morning infotainment show, “CBS This Morning.”

“Today’s” Katie Couric Counter-Programming Campaign also includes the booking of Octomom (Nadya Suleman), Kim Kardashian, prolific baby-making couple The Duggars, Tori Spelling, and Nicki Minaj, who last week performed live on Fox’s “American Idol” and will do so again on “Today”– hopefully minus the “Idol” appearance’s wardrobe malfunction. Or, maybe with – depending on how well Couric does in the ratings when she fills in all week for “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts, who’s on vacation.

Couric has a deal with Disney – parent company of “GMA” network ABC – to launch a daytime talk show in the fall, and being crowned The One Who Took Down “Today” would be a great way to kick off a marketing campaign for that launch.

“GMA” just enjoyed its closest first-quarter numbers relative to “Today” in more than 16 years and, in the most recent week for which ratings are available, “GMA’ came in only about 140,000 viewers shy of “Today.” Last time “GMA” beat “Today” for a week was in December of 1995.

But, about Seacrest — who might be “Today’s” most potent Katie Couric Counterprogramming move — throw your mind back to April, when word got out that Couric was leaving CBS News to do a syndicated talk show. A couple of days later, a report surfaced that Meredith Vieira might leave “Today,” after which — faster than you could say “agents love to negotiate big-ticket talent contracts in the press” — “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider” started reporting that Lauer planned to tell NBC News honchos that he was going to leave the show when his contract expires.

Well, turns out, two can play that game.

So, a couple days later, — faster than you can say “agents aren’t the only suits who love to negotiate big-ticket talent contracts in the press” — the Wall Street Journal was reporting that NBC Universal was pursuing Seacrest as a possible successor to Lauer on “Today” if Lauer vacated his co-anchor seat this year.

TRWCT began to hyperventilate at the very thought of the “American Idol” host replacing journalist Lauer at the helm of “Today.” The story, in some press reports, became that “Today” is the crown jewel of American television, excepting maybe that hour hosted by Kathie Lee and Hoda. And taking time off, of course, for when “60 Minutes” is the crown jewel of American television, not to mention the unwritten rule that says whenever NBC dumps one “Tonight Show” host to bring back another, “Tonight” temporarily becomes the crown jewel of American television.

At any rate, in round numbers, “Today” brought in more than $500 million in ad revenue in 2010, so we can agree that it is an extremely valuable and important franchise. Which is why “Today” and NBC News are so worried about this week’s Couric guest-hosting gig on “GMA” and what it might mean for the “Today” ratings record.

Which also means, according to one source who had knowledge of the situation, that Seacrest might very well sign up to do the 9 o’clock hour of “Today,” regardless of Lauer’s plans.

Because even if Lauer decides not to bail, NBC News, as we have been saying, has a big “Today” ratings problem.

Enter Ryan Seacrest.

Seacrest has a nationally syndicated radio program that, Clear Channel boasts, has a weekly worldwide audience estimated at more than 20 million people.

He’s also the host of “Idol” which, some might argue — particularly those who work at Fox — is the crown jewel of American television, what with it being the most-watched show in the country.

America loves Ryan Seacrest.

NBC News suits would be nuts NOT to sign Seacrest do stuff for “Today.”

“Let us know who you’re most excited about for next week in the comments below,” “Today” suggested on its Web site Sunday.

Have a guess how those comments played out? If you picked “Angry People Ranting About Sarah Palin” – you win! It went like this:

*Sarah Palin, the most exciting female in the world.

versus:

*Exciting to the 80 year old guys in wheelchairs maybe

And later:

*I’ve been watching the Today Show almost every morning for years. I’m so disappointed that theyhave chosen to have Sarah Palin as a Co-host. Guess I’ll be watching GMA on Tuesday. I can’t bring myself to watch a narcissistic idiot give her opinion on issues that she is obviously not qualified to do!

versus:

*It is truly amazing how many people who disdain Sarah Palin have nothing specific to cite against her, while at the same time, demostrate no knowledge of her numerous impressive achievements. They just hate her, period. My suspicion is it’s because she refused to kill her baby.

By  |  08:44 PM ET, 04/01/2012

 
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