This morning on “Today,” Ryan Seacrest confirmed a few rumors and shot down a few others. The “American Idol” and “E! News” host and reality-TV mogul announced that he was officially joining the NBC team, beginning with its prime-time coverage of the London Olympics this summer, and that he would continue on as host of “Idol” while scaling back his on-air work at E!
“I’ve worked with the E! network for years, and NBC Universal and E! are in the same family. The plan is for me to join the NBC family and continue to have a role on the E! network,” Seacrest told “Today” anchor Matt Lauer. “The first assignment for me will be with the prime-time team at the Olympics on NBC.”
After establishing what he would be doing, Seacrest and Lauer continued through an awkward conversation about what he would not be doing, at least not just yet: gunning to take over Lauer’s anchor job on “Today” when his contract expires later this year.
“I see you doing this as long as you want to,” Seacrest said to Lauer when pressed about his rumored negotiations with “Today” producers. “So the question is: How long will you be on the ‘Today’ show?”
“We have talked about this, joked about this,” Lauer continued. “There is no tension here.”
With Lauer’s future with “Today” still in question, Seacrest’s arrival at NBC brings with it some major implications. Here are the top three:
Seacrest Is Being Primed to Replace Lauer
During their back-and-forth over whether he’d been approached to replace Lauer, Seacrest played coy, joking that his conversations with “Today” producers “were mostly about filling in to do weather.” He never explicitly denied that he was in talks to host, making the subtext of the conversation pretty clear: the anchor job at “Today” remains Lauer’s as long as he wants it, but Seacrest is largely being brought onboard to wait in the wings and learn the ropes.
Lauer is reportedly deep in tough negotiations with “Today” and NBC to remain on the program, and the consensus opinion seems to be that the network is looking to do whatever it takes, including meeting his reported $25 million salary demand, to keep him for the near future. That’s a lot of money, but the “Today” show is a cash cow — generating $450 million in ad revenue in 2010, according to New York magazine — and the net sees Lauer as integral to keeping “Today” on top.
Lauer provides the stability that is key to success in morning news and is a master at mixing the serious and the silly, which is important when your job is to both report on the war in Afghanistan and later interview a “Toddlers & Tiaras” pageant mother. Seacrest already has the lighthearted side of things down, but he needs to bulk up his bona fides as a credible journalist. Don’t be surprised if, following his coverage of the Olympics, the various NBC News properties (“Today” included) take him on as a correspondent to cover some serious stuff. They are going to groom him to be a TV news Renaissance man, just like Matt Lauer.
Seacrest Poses More of a Threat to the “Today” Ladies
Seacrest’s appearance on “Today” pretty much changed the question from “will he” to “when will he” join the “Today” team and in what capacity. But if they are grooming him to replace Lauer eventually, it will disrupt the chain of succession at “Today.” When Katie Couric left the show, Lauer stepped into the alpha anchor chair, after years of paying his dues as newsreader and co-anchor. Anne Curry would rightfully assume that position if Lauer left, but many have commented that she has had a “rocky transition to her new role” as co-anchor since Meredith Vieira’s departure.
Seacrest’s hiring makes it seem like NBC execs are stacking the deck — and not in Savannah Guthrie’s or Curry’s favor. If the “Idol” host leapfrogs Curry somewhere down the road for the lead anchor chair, it will also keep Guthrie from ascending through the ranks the way her colleagues have before her.
“Today” won’t demote Curry in any way — and, to be fair, she hasn’t been all that bad — but the lukewarm reception she’s received makes it unlikely she’ll ever be made lead anchor either. Guthrie, however, has more to worry about. She often steps in when Curry or Lauer are out, and if Seacrest is being groomed for Lauer’s spot, producers may opt to have him step up where she normally would.
Seacrest Isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon
With his plans to continue on as host of “American Idol” and keep his thriving reality-show empire alive on E!, Seacrest will become an even more powerful media figure after he joins NBC. He has his fingers in just about every genre of television except serious news, and that’s essentially what NBC is offering him. In so doing, it also secures his place in the most stable arena in the media canon.
The popularity of reality TV ebbs and flows — remember that “Survivor” and “American Idol” were once the top shows on television and now regularly attract only half the audience they did at their peak — so staking your career to it is kind of like building a house on sand. Seacrest has become a mogul by seizing on zeitgeist — “Idol,” the “Kardashian” franchise he built as a producer, his red-carpet work with E! — but he’s also a 37-year-old man who knows the things that have brought him so much success will eventually fade away.
But the news never goes out of style. By getting in good with NBC, Seacrest also secures himself the long-term broadcast career he may have otherwise missed out on had he hedged his bets entirely on “Idol” and his reality-TV empire. For a little perspective, the “Today” show has been on the air since 1952 and is the fourth-longest-running television series ever, behind only “Meet the Press,” “The CBS Evening News” and “Hallmark Hall of Fame.” “American Idol” is puttering along with series-low ratings in its 11th season.
So what Ryan Seacrest was really announcing this morning on “Today” was his next chapter. Sure, the timeframes haven’t been set and the ink isn’t entirely dry, but his decision to join NBC as an on-air player marks the transition to a new career. It may resemble the old one, but make no mistake: We are being primed for Ryan Seacrest: News Man.
What do you think of Seacrest’s announcement? Let us know in the comments!