The Reporters Who Cover Television — settling in for the long winter’s nap that starts shortly after the November sweep and generally lasts until the start of Winter TV Press Tour in January — were rudely jolted out of their slumber and into action Thursday when actual news erupted:
NBC News suits had been seen dining with Ryan Seacrest. In Los Angeles.
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 next year. Comcast is extremely motivated to make Seacrest very happy — they’ve already foisted another of his improbable reality series on another Comcast cable network: Bravo. This one is called “Shahs of Sunset,” about a group of young Persian American friends who juggle “living” and “working” in L.A.
Meanwhile, throw your mind back to April, when word got out that Katie Couric was leaving CBS News to do a syndicated show. And a couple of days later, a report surfaced that Meredith Vieira might leave “Today,” after which — faster than you can say “agents love to negotiate big-ticket talent contracts in the press” — “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider” started reporting that Matt 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 on Thursday — 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 vacates his co-anchor seat next 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 for the company, so we can agree it is an extremely valuable and important franchise.
Which means, according to one source who has knowledge of the situation, that Seacrest is probably going to show up on the 9 o’clock hour of “Today” very soon-ish, regardless of Lauer’s plans as his contract winds to an end over the coming year.
Because even if Lauer decides not to bail, NBC News has a big “Today” problem.
The morning infotainment program is losing ground to ABC’s “Good Morning America.” On a seasonal basis, the ratings gap between “Today” and “GMA” is the smallest it’s been in four years.
Only 549,000 viewers separate “GMA” from “Today” this season, compared with about 1 million a year ago. “GMA’s” ratings have improved over its year-ago stats for the past 47 consecutive weeks.
And it’s a similar story among the 25- to 54-year-olds who are the target age bracket of news programming.
Something has to be done at “Today.”
Enter Ryan Seacrest.
Seacrest has a nationally syndicated morning radio program that, Clear Channel boasts, has a weekly worldwide audience estimated at more than 20 million people.
He’s also the host of “American 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 with 25 million viewers.
America loves Ryan Seacrest.
NBC News suits would be nuts not to beg Seacrest do stuff for “Today.”
”When you have Ryan Seacrest in the company, it would be silly not to be talking to him. Of course they’re talking to Ryan Seacrest,” said that source who has knowledge of the situation.
“Should you be surprised if you see him pop up in the 9 o’clock hour [of ‘Today’] soon? No you shouldn’t. He’s part of the NBC Family,” the source continued.
As to whether he’d want to take a pay cut for the sake of becoming co-anchor of the “crown jewel of American TV,” that remains to be seen. Anchoring “Today” — which kicks off at 7 a.m. Eastern — would present certain problems regarding his daily morning live radio program.
Ditto hosting “Idol,” which is shot in Los Angeles, while anchoring “Today” in New York.
On the other hand, he’s Ryan Seacrest, media mogul. Anything’s possible.