NBC took hits from critics in 1997, when it brought on Lauer — previously a local news and interview host — as star of "Today." He, too, was considered too "lite" for the network position. But Wilch noted how Lauer developed an "incredible chemistry" with Katie Couric and how the show set itself apart with "event" programming — such as a live wedding and the whimsical "Where in the World is Matt Lauer" feature.
"The key in the morning is range — and we have yet to see whether Ryan has that, but his success in everything he has ever done suggests he's a good gamble," Wilch said via email. The consultant said that news is coming from so many sources today that "the point of differentiation comes in execution and that's all about hosts."
But critics say something other than the verities of the market should matter. "As silly as 'Today' can be, it also occasionally calls for a little gravitas," wrote Richard Lawson in the Atlantic Wire. "Lauer was live on air for a long time the morning of 9/11 and handled it as best as a jarred morning show host could. Can anyone really imagine Ryan Seacrest doing the same thing?"
Craig Aaron, head of the nonprofit media watchdog Free Press, which opposed Comcast's takeover of NBC, raised similar objections, wondering if Seacrest should be placed in a position to interview presidents and national leaders. "I assume it's just a matter of time before Paula Abdul rolls her chair in next to David Gregory on 'Meet the Press,' " Aaron wrote in a commentary on Huffington Post. He suggested NBC should save the money of a large Seacrest salary and put it into investigative projects and foreign bureaus.
Seacrest would presumably have to give up some part of his media empire, perhaps the radio platform, to make way for the "Today" gig. The Washington Post quoted sources as saying that an entry point for the host could be as host of the program's fourth and final hour.
Both Seacrest, who has had a seemingly unblemished rise in entertainment, and "Today" executives, on a long-term ratings win streak, have to wonder how it would all play out. A year ago, "Today" averaged about 1 million more viewers than "Good Morning America." With about 5.4 million daily viewers now, its lead over the ABC program has decreased to about 600,000 viewers.
MONDAY ON TV
123rd Tournament of Roses Parade (9 a.m., Ch. 4 and 5): Live from Pasadena, Calif.
College football: Georgia vs. Michigan State in the Outback Bowl (11 a.m., Ch. 4); Nebraska vs. South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl (11 a.m., ESPN); Florida vs. Ohio State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl (11 a.m., ESPN2); Oregon vs. Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl (3 p.m., ESPN); Oklahoma State vs. Stanford in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (6:30 p.m., ESPN)
How I Met Your Mother (7 p.m., Ch. 2): Marshall goes to his father's grave for New Year's Day tailgating
NBA basketball (7 p.m., Root): Hornets at Jazz
Hawaii Five-0 (9 p.m., Ch. 2): A teenager is murdered.
Celebrity Wife Swap (9 p.m., Ch. 4): Tracey Gold and Carnie Wilson switch places for a week.
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