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On Wednesday morning, Lauer’s seat was filled by his 10 a.m. Today colleague, Hoda Kotb, who could swap in for Lauer at least in the short-term. (She also filled the seat on Thursday and Friday.) But who will fill that hugely lucrative seat longer term is a question being asked inside and out of the network’s midtown headquarters.
NBC could go internal in picking an official replacement for Lauer, with several members of the Today family — including co-anchor Al Roker, Willie Geist, Craig Melvin and Carson Daly — all possible candidates. Megyn Kelly, the network’s new 9 a.m. host, could be a dark-horse candidate for the position, too. And though there would likely be concerns about doing so given its broad-appeal, nonpartisan nature, the morning show could draw from the MSNBC talent pool.
At the same time, NBC could also opt to bring in someone from the outside to replace the high-profile and highly paid Lauer. Names from Anderson Cooper (locked up at CNN) to Ryan Seacrest (ditto at ABC) to Thomas Roberts (unattached) are being bandied about in the press, as are those of former NBC anchors including Tamron Hall and Ann Curry. Of course, as one veteran exec warned, “bringing an outsider in would be risky, as viewers may jump ship if they don’t like the choice.”
Earlier this year, Kelly would have appeared the no-brainer choice given the size of her deal and the ambitions the network seemed to have for her. Such hype has cooled considerably with her Megyn Kelly Today debuting to unimpressive ratings and reviews in September, though the former Fox News host has seen her standing improve in recent weeks as she’s aggressively covered accusations of sexual misconduct against major media and entertainment figures. In fact, Kelly discussed Lauer’s firing on her show and again at a Business Insider conference, where she said she had heard rumors about her colleague but hoped they were untrue. A source with knowledge of the show said that Kelly seems to be the only viable option for the seat. A spokeswoman for Kelly’s show didn’t respond to a question about the possibility.
Another longtime TV exec put in a plug for Geist, who anchors Sunday Today and frequently fills in for Lauer during the week. That comfort level with the other anchors and the franchise audience, along with Geist’s ability to ping-pong between hard news and lighter fare, could bode well for him as NBC brass considers its options. “Willie Geist is the best candidate to take over as co-anchor of the Today show, period!” the exec said, noting: “The Today audience is very familiar with him. Savannah Guthrie has worked with him and respects him, as does Al Roker and other Today talent.” (A potential strike against Geist, however, is his participation in a gag video with Lauer that appears to mock sexual harassment allegations.)
Melvin, a Weekend Today co-host, would be a similarly safe, if not exactly inspired choice. Ditto for Daly, who spends a lot of time on the Today set, though the Voice host lacks any of the news experience that Lauer offered. It’s worth noting that CBS faces the same dilemma in trying to replace the star power of the ousted Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning.
A spokeswoman for Today did not respond to a question about how Lauer’s seat will be filled in the short term.