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Matt Lauer signs two-year deal to stay at 'Today'; 10 reasons why Matt is staying

NBC "Today" host Matt Lauer at the East

(Credit: Randee Daddona)

Matt Lauer has quietly signed a new deal with NBC to keep him at "The Today Show" for two more years.

Maybe not so quietly: NBC gave the story to The New York Times yesterday, with quotes and terms included. To condense all those, quickly for you: He's the best in the business and he loves what he does, and this is for two more years, and no, we're not saying how much this is costing...

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ESPN star producer named 'Today' chief

This Feb. 24, 2014 photo released by NBC

(Credit: AP / Peter Kramer)

In a move almost certain to set off renewed speculation about where the "Today" show is going (and who's going there with it), the network just named Jamie Horowtiz senior vice president and general manager of the franchise. Horowitz is -- or was -- a very big deal at ESPN, probably the most successful TV brand in the world, where he launched many shows, and was a lion-tamer as well: He brought back Keith Olbermann, who presumably has been happy with the boss, now making the big move from Bristol, Connecticut to Manhattan.

The speculation? Oh, the usual stuff: Who will replace Matt Lauer, likely to leave at the end of his current contract? ("Likely" - but one never knows until one knows, and the ratings do appear to have stabilized, and with them, Matt...) Josh Elliott of course began his career at ESPN, and the advent of the Horowitz era is certain to set off some thinking that he might be here to bridge some sort of gap between sports - where Elliott is based now - and "Today." Of course, that may be "baseless" thinking... Elliott continues to dash any idea that he is destined for "Today."

 But there's really one and only one job here -- to get "Today" back on top, and push "GMA" back to the place from whence it came (second). Horowitz certainly arrives on an interesting day, when NBCUniversal announced a $7-billion-plus multi-decade deal to air the Olympics; "Today" has long had a happy and symbiotic relationship with this enormous franchise...

 Here's the top of the release: 

Horowitz will lead the TODAY brand and drive greater integration and growth among all parts of the brand,...also explore new formats, such as extensions in digital, e-commerce, events and other opportunities to serve the audience beyond the day-to-day execution of the existing broadcast and digital platforms... "I am honored to join Deborah [Turness,NBC News president]'s team and help guide TODAY into the future," said Horowitz. "This is an exciting and invigorating opportunity, and I am humbled to work with one of the most indelible brands in television. I am also grateful to John Skipper and ESPN for the opportunities and support they have given me over the past eight years."

'Good Morning America's' Josh Elliott heading to NBC, and ...

"Good Morning America's" Josh Elliott with Robin Roberts

(Credit: ABC)

"Good Morning America's" Josh Elliott -- coveted by NBC longer than the Yankees had coveted Masahiro Tanaka -- is finally going to NBC: The official line: He's joining NBC Sports, but few really believe that's the final stop for the soon-to-be former "GMA" news anchor who will be replaced by Amy Robach.  

Ben Sherwood, the ABC News chief, said this in a memo, also distributed to the press:

"As many of you know, we have been negotiating with Josh these past several months. In good faith, we worked hard to close a significant gap between our generous offer and his expectations. In the end, Josh felt he deserved a different deal and so he chose a new path. I want to thank Josh for his many contributions to GMA and ABC News. Later in the week, we will bid him farewell."

Elliott's an interesting play for all sorts of reasons, but pre-eminent among those is the possibility that he will someday, and sooner than later, replace Matt Lauer. Lauer was damaged in the wake of Ann Curry's ouster, and while "Today's" ratings have improved, Matt's have not, necessarily.

Ask anyone in an official capacity at NBC about who will one day replace Matt and the answer is (not yet officially, because this is not yet "official") Willie Geist.

The reasons for Geist are compelling: He's an excellent broadcaster and a very smart guy, who has written books and knows how to interview stars (in one segment) and brain surgeons (in the next).

But it's unclear whether he has -- to use the old phrase -- lit up the boards. NBC wants an electric personality to replace Matt (when his deal ends). Lauer's long and hugely successful run ends next year, and so does his (estimated) $25 million-per-year contract.  So now let the babbling begin: Will Josh be the guy? (Per reports, in the New York Post about two weeks ago, Josh wanted $8 million to stay at ABC; ABC wanted to cough up half that amount. Hey, it's TV. What can I say?)

Don't be surprised to see him on "Today" when he joins up to talk about . . . sports. And who knows what else! He's a member of the "family" now.  Is Elliott the "electric" personality that NBC hopes he will be? We'll all find out together -- but he was part of a team that toppled the longest winning streaks in morning TV history. Maybe that's "electric" enough.

Meanwhile, back to the Yankees analogy: NBC is deploying a strategy that George would admire. Pick apart the winning team until . . . it's winning no longer. Smart strategy, but an expensive one, too.

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