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WSJ Adds Fuel to Ryan Seacrest/’Today’ Fire

Last night the Wall Street Journal reported that Ryan Seacrest met with some top NBC News honchos on Tuesday night to discuss if he might have a role in the organization, likely as Matt Lauer‘s successor on “Today.”

The article is also loaded with cautionary wording:

To be sure, the talks are preliminary and could fall apart at any time. They also may be in part a negotiating tactic for NBC executives, who need a strong backup plan in case Mr. Lauer leaves the show. Mr. Seacrest is one of NBC’s top replacement choices, according to people familiar with the matter.

It is still far from certain that Lauer will leave “Today.” Suffice it to say NBC would prefer to keep him on board, even if only for another year. That said, executives at the company would be remiss if they did not hedge their bets and scout potential replacements.

The key with Seacrest is that his current deal with NBCUniversal ends next year. That agreement includes a “first look” development deal, as well as hosting for E! News and red carpet specials. If the WSJ is correct and Comcast wants to re-sign him to a new contract, adding new duties would make sense. Whether that is as a primary anchor on “Today”–or as a regular contributor–remains to be seen.

Seacrest is no stranger to daytime, having briefly hosted a syndicated program “On Air,” which fizzled out. He has also interviewed newsmakers, as his interview with President Obama last year demonstrated. Last year CNN’s Larry King recommended him as his replacement at the cable news channel, though for many reasons that deal never materialized.

A former TV executive who worked with Seacrest tells TVNewser that the “American Idol” host has expressed a desire to move to New York, though they believed that he would wait until “American Idol” ended before making that jump.

Assuming that Comcast does sign Seacrest to a new deal, it is a safe bet that the host will have a  regular presence on “Today,” regardless of whether Lauer chooses to stay or not. The big question is what exactly his role at NBC News and “Today” would be. With four hours to play with, there is lots of wiggle room.

Update: The New York TimesBrian Stelter has some more details. As we predicted, viewers should expect to see more Seacrest on NBC, regardless of what happens with Lauer:

In July, six months after Comcast, which owns the E! channel and “E! News,” gained control of NBC, Mr. Seacrest made a much-noticed appearance on “Today” to discuss one of his charities. He is expected to step up those appearances next year, perhaps as an occasional co-host of the third hour of the four-hour program.

One of the people with knowledge of the negotiations described the possibility of an “apprenticeship” for Mr. Seacrest under Mr. Lauer next year, allowing Mr. Seacrest to gradually gain news credibility with the “Today” show audience. Mr. Seacrest had a similar relationship with Larry King when Mr. King had a CNN interview
show.

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