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The $500 Million ‘Today’ show question

The AP’s David Bauder tries to make sense of this week’s double whammy at the $500 million (that’s what it earned last year) “Today” show — the reports that one, if not both, of the primary anchors might be leaving when their contracts are up. Bauder talked with two former TV news executives for the story — former ABC News president David Westin and former “GMA” and “Early Show” EP Shelley Ross.

First, Meredith Vieira, and the report this week that she may step aside in September.

“If they proved they could replace Katie Couric without a hiccup, they can replace Meredith without a hiccup,” says Ross.

Easy money is on show veteran Ann Curry as the new co-anchor. Westin says she has consistently tested well with viewers. But, Bauder writes:

If NBC went elsewhere, there’s a good chance they would have two positions to fill: Human nature suggests someone who’s been at the same job for 15 years (as Curry has) and is passed over twice for promotion would want to move on.

The Matt Lauer news is a whole other story.

Bauder writes:

It’s hard to know what to make of the report he’s poised to leave. Networks have been known to leak stories to nudge action on a contract extension. NBC News often seeks long-term contracts for its valued employees, and quietly locked up Lauer at the same time the world had been focused on Couric’s future.

Agents have also adroitly played the press to increase pressure on a company to raise a salary offer.

Or it could be true: 17 years is a long time to wake up for work in the middle of the night.

Even his rivals concede Lauer is the best at what he does — maybe ever.

“Women want to talk to Matt and men want to talk to Matt,” Ross said. “The only people who have been as all-around talented with a broad range of skill sets are Brokaw, Gumbel and Lauer. That’s it.”

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