This is American Idol (scratch that)……This is TODAY on NBC! These could be the words we hear soon from the mouth of Ryan Seacrest if execs at NBC Universal get their wish. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ryan Seacrest is in talks with Comcast/NBC about his new contract which expires early 2012; in the talks one of the jobs that could be added to his resume would be to replace the consummate Matt Lauer as the new co-anchor of “Today” on NBC. A lot of media critics have criticized this move because Seacrest is an entertainment news journalist, something that doesn’t entail as much pressure and rigor as being a news journalist. But if Piers Morgan, Geraldo Rivera and Bryant Gumbel can handle news television coming from other backgrounds in the world of television, then why not Seacrest?
The only problem that “Today” could face is chemistry, something that has already jarred them since Meredith Vieria left. When you watch “GMA” and “Today” at the same time, you can see why “GMA” is starting to pick up in the ratings. On Thursday morning, I kept switching over between the two shows, with both shows having all of their regular anchors in studio and it seems as though on “Today” everyone has become so stiff and boring. It’s not that they don’t get along with each other, but when Matt tries to make a joke it just goes over Ann’s head and she pretends to understand Matt’s sense of humor but the viewer can tell the chemistry isn’t genuine. They just haven’t jelled yet which has affected Al and Natalie’s performance as well.
Over at “GMA” though, they’ve used the “Today” formula of making the viewer feel like they know the anchor team personally and it’s worked for them. There’s a lot of zany, funny features they’ve added like “Play of the Day” and “Pop News Heat Index” that’s helped the team look more human, instead of sticking to serious hard-core news all morning. George Stephanapolous, the guy who people thought would be too serious for “GMA” when he first came in has actually been the bright light of the show because of his unexpected candor and willingness to poke fun with his fellow anchors.
So, what should the “Today” show do to combat the biggest threat to their supremacy yet? Bring in Ryan Seacrest. He has very likeable to the female target audience “Today” is trying to reach and it is very easy for him to find chemistry with co-workers as we’ve seen with Guiliana Rancic on E!, Simon Cowell on “Idol” and Ellen K on his syndicated radio show. There are going to have to be a lot of logistics worked out though. For example, Seacrest would probably have to give up his “Idol” duties after his contract runs out as well as his “E! News” duties and could probably only do awards show red carpet shows for E! Their shouldn’t be a problem with keeping his production company, because Al Roker also operates a successful production company while doing weather for “Today” and the Weather Channel. But his radio gigs would have to be modified.
With a move to New York and a deal with Clear Channel that doesn’t run out in three years, Seacrest would most likely have to work the afternoon shift at Z-100 until his deal runs out. Because of this dilemma, I believe it’s more likely that unless Clear Channel lets Seacrest out of his deal we’ll probably see David Gregory step in for Matt Lauer and then have Seacrest fill in a Lara Spencer-type role and co-host the 2nd and 3rd hour of “Today”. Gregory brings in the news credibility critics are looking for and is a very fun person that the morning shift needs (His love of dancing and Mary J. Blige has been chronicled on the show many times). He doesn’t bring in the female audience that Seacrest could bring in though because of his history with handling politics for MSNBC and “MTP” which is why Comcast/NBC still would need Seacrest for its number 1 most profitable television program.
If “Today” makes this move, you get the best of both worlds because you have a classy journalist who actually seems to have more chemistry and fun with Ann, Al and Natalie when he’s subbing than Matt does and you bring in a Hollywood journalist who has previous connections with the target demo and can handle interviews with celebrity guests and newsmakers as we saw when he interviewed the POTUS on his radio show during the election cycle of 2010. He can moderate pop culture and societal discussions that are held in the “Today’s Professionals” segment and could probably even do a traveling segment similar to Matt Lauer’s “Where in the World”.
There were recently some rumors circulating Hollywood that Seacrest planned to host and launch his own singing competition on NBC and if that were to do well, you can use “Today” as a platform for eliminated contestants to go and get interviewed when eliminated, similar to what “Idol” does with “Live With Kelly” and “Ellen” or what “Survivor” used to do during the Bryant Gumbel-era of “The Early Show”. It would also be kind of awkward to be one of the faces of NBC’s most popular program while hosting a competing New Year’s Eve show on ABC and having to promote your NYE show on the morning show that is your biggest competitor so something would have to be worked out there as well (hopefully they don’t screw over Carson Daly forcing him to move his late-night show and New Year’s Eve show to ABC in exchange for Seacrest).
2012 is going to be an interesting year in terms of transitions on morning television. Whether Lauer stays or moves on to become a talk show host, Regis replacement, cable news host or a correspondent on “60 Minutes” or “Rock Center”; Seacrest is going to become a vital part of keeping “Today” at #1 next year. The question is what role NBC Universal wants him to play. We’ll find out soon.