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NEW YORK – As speculation swirls about whether Ryan Seacrest is in line to succeed Matt Lauer at NBC’s Today, at least one competing news division is interested in Lauer’s services: the network of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow.
Lauer isn’t going anywhere any time soon. His contract with NBC News extends through 2012. And Fager is very clear that he has not talked to Lauer about switching networks. Contractually, the Today anchor is barred from entertaining offers until September 2012. But Lauer’s interviewing skills and household-name popularity through more than 17 years on Today would make him a nice fit for 60 Minutes, as the venerable broadcast continues to cycle new correspondents into its ranks.
And sources caution that a meeting earlier this week between Seacrest and NBC News executives, including Today executive producer Jim Bell, was not a pitch to replace Lauer but rather exploratory conversations about ways Seacrest could contribute to Today.
To be sure, NBC News executives would like to hold on to Lauer and could certainly sweeten the pot on his reported $12 million annual paycheck. But beyond primetime specials, there is little room for him on the network’s regular broadcasts. And at 53, Lauer is too young for emeritus status. (Former Today and Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, 71, continues to contribute to NBC News broadcasts since retiring as Nightly News anchor in 2004.)
Lauer also has talked to his former Today co-host Katie Couric about reuniting on a daytime talk show. Speaking at a Today press conference last May to announce Meredith Vieira’s departure and Ann Curry’s ascension to co-host, Lauer said: “Katie and I did speak about it. As it turned out, it turned into just talk and that’s how we left it.”
At the time, Lauer would not address rumors about whether he would stay at Today beyond his current contract. But he will still be at Today when Couric’s daytime show launches in fall 2012.
NBC News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lauer could do worse than a berth at 60 Minutes. The venerable broadcast has managed to remain popular after more than 40 years on the air. It features stalwarts Morley Safer, Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl as well as newer correspondents including Lara Logan, Byron Pitts and CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
It is the news division’s most successful program by far. But since taking over as chairman of CBS News last February, Fager and his lieutenant, CBS News president David Rhodes, have made pulling the network’s other regular broadcasts out of the ratings basement a priority. Their latest attempt will come in January with the launch of a new morning show – using the old title CBS This Morning – with co-hosts Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill.
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