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Multiple sources confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that NBC executives, including Today executive producer Jim Bell, met with Seacrest earlier this week to discuss the possibility of him joining NBC’s hugely valuable morning show.
The meeting, first reported by the Wall Street Journal did take place, but sources described it as part of continued discussions with the multihyphenate host of American Idol, radio’s On Air With Ryan Seacrest and weekly top 40 countdown and lead anchor and managing editor of E! News.
However, when profiled by THR in April, Seacrest was vocal about his excitement to play a bigger role at Today now that the show and its network has become a part of the expanded post Comcast-NBCUniversal merger family.
Meanwhile, the news was met with mixed reactions by those in the media.
The Los Angeles Times’ Joe Flint, for one, isn’t sure Seacrest is a right fit for the job.
“Journalism purists will no doubt feel a pain in their stomach over the idea of Seacrest hosting what is technically a morning news program,” he wrote. “After all, while the morning shows are a lot of fluff these days, the anchor still has to have the gravitas to be able to turn to the camera at a moment’s notice and say, ‘America is under attack.’ So far the only thing Seacrest can say with conviction is ‘Seacrest out.'”
On the other hand, the New York Times’ Brian Stelter said it might not be a bad move for Today.
“There was little if any surprise among NBC’s competitors,” he wrote. “Mr. Seacrest is perceived to be hugely popular among women who make up the core demographic for Today, which is the most watched and most lucrative morning program on television. He would bring to it immediate star power and a galaxy of Hollywood contacts.”
Forbes‘ Jeff Bercovici cited specific data from Marketing Evaluations Inc. showing that Seacrest is “actually more popular than Lauer, especially in the demographics that matter most to NBC.” The data shows that 70% of Americans 18 and older are familiar with Lauer compared with 77% for Seacrest.
Among the key morning programs’ demo of women 18-49, Seacrest’s familiarity is at 85% and his “positive Q score” — or likability rating — is 23, compared with 70% and 19, respectively, for Lauer.
The Atlantic Wire’s Richard Lawson wrote that Seacrest has the “TV hosting chops” for the gig, but still might not be the right fit.
“Years of shepherding contestants through the American Idol thunderdome has made him a master at covering up awkward moments, extracting tears, and ginning up excitement. And that’s a perfect talent for hosting something as kabuki as that talent show. But the Today show is, despite all its Al Roker chuckling and Kathie Lee glugfesting, at least something of an actual news program. Sure Lauer has watched some puppy fashion shows in his time, but he’s also interviewed politicians and had feisty exchanges with Scientologist celebrities. That is not the Seacrest way. And we don’t think it ever will be.”
As for Seacrest covering a breaking news story on the order of 9/11, it would “be like watching a monkey on rollerskates deliver a eulogy,” Lawson wrote. “Well, no. It would be something far less amazing than that. It would just be wrong, is what we’re saying.”
Among the pros: He’s a “smart guy,” is a “not-bad inteviewer,” has the “requisite ironic wit that Today fans seem to save in their hosts,” is a “skillful broadcaster” and would “bring a lot of attention to a show that’s suddenly in a bit of a dogfight with GMA, which is adding viewers.
And the reasons he thinks it wouldn’t work? Among them: He’s “overexposed,” he’s “light as a feather” and “actually may be too glib” and “too much of a star,” he’s too busy and there’s “not enough money in the universe to pay him.”
Media Life’s Bill Cromwell likewise seemed mixed about the news, saying he could attract a younger audience but might “turn off” Today’s older viewers.
“Also, of no small import, while he has done red carpet interviews for E!, he’s no journalist,” he wrote. “It’s difficult to imagine him bantering comfortably with [co-host Ann] Curry and weatherman Al Roker, with whom Lauer has worked for a decade.”
On the other hand, Cromwell, opined, Seacrest already has a close relationship with Comcast, which owns by NBC and E!.
Meanwhile, MTV News’ John Mitchell was even more blunt in his assessment, calling it “a terrible idea for a variety of reasons.”
For starters, he writes, Seacrest lacks the “journalistic chops” Today show anchor needs.
“We mean no offense to Seacrest when we say he would be a misguided replacement for Lauer,” he wrote. “He is a charming interviewer and a dynamic host. But he is not a hard-news journalist. To successfully anchor the Today show, you have to be all three of these things.”
While he praised Seacrest for his American Idol hosting and E! News anchoring duties, he said Today needs someone who has experience covering “hard” news.
“How you ask then-First Lady Hillary Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky scandal is an entirely different ballgame than asking Kim Kardashian about her love life,” he wrote. “It requires an innate seriousness that Seacrest doesn’t have, a credibility that has been chipped away by years of asking starlets who they’re wearing.”
The Inside Cable News blog echoed that sentiment, tweeting: “Can anyone picture Ryan Seacrest covering 9/11 if he’d been at Today on that date? Didn’t think so…”
Meanwhile, NBC’s own legal analyst Dan Abrams tweeted that Seacrest would be a “spectacular morning host.”
Drew Grant of the New York Observer noted that there is still a “major issue” that would have to be addressed before Seacrest signed on as Today co-host: “the man is West Coast all the way. He is executive producer of On-Air with Ryan Seacrest, as well as a host, and he’d have to give up his morning show if he moved Eastward…or at least change the format to be less L.A. time-centric.”
He noted that Seacrest signed a $60 million, three-year on the radio with Clear Channel Communications last year.
Gawker.com’s Seth Abramovitch used the blog’s trademark snark when writing about the news.
“This is actually a great idea,” he wrote. “With Ann Curry and Ryan Seacrest at the helm, the venerable morning show will dispense with any pretense of wit or complexity, giving viewers a reason to feel better about themselves in the morning before heading out the door to tackle an increasingly hostile world. Crack open the Chablis, Kathie Lee! It’s going to be a long three hours.”
Even journalists in the United Kingdom have an opinion. Hadley Freeman of the U.K.’s Guardian wrote that Seacrest would be the “perfect fit” for the morning show, saying he has “worked hard for his success.”
“Moreover, he is also a lot smarter than most people in his business,” she continued. “As a dedicated watcher of [awards show] red carpet coverage on E!, I can confirm that Seacrest is far better than not just his colleagues (most of whom appear to be experiments from a lobotomy medical class), to say nothing of the celebrities he encounters (who aren’t so much lobotomised but zombified), but the genre itself. … He comes across as appealingly smart, which is not very easy to do when one is asking Kelly Osborne where her jewels are from.
She added that Seacrest is “as comfortable interviewing celebrities as he is doing smooth links to the camera and, the truth is, that’s all breakfast news anchors need to do these days. It’s been a while since anyone’s been able to say this but, NBC – well played here.”
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