"Today" show co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer talk with...

"Today" show co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer talk with homeless man Ted Williams on NBC's "Today" show in Manhattan on Jan. 6, 2011. Credit: AP

Katie Couric is reported to be stepping down, and Meredith Vieira is, too. So who's left? Oh right, Matt Lauer: ETOnline Wednesday reported that Lauer will leave as co-anchor of "Today" when his contract ends in December 2012, which -- if true -- means TV's most durable news franchise faces the daunting task of replacing two marquee names within a year and a half.

The report not only caught NBC flat-footed, but also the rest of the TV news industry already digesting off-the-record confirmation from the network that Vieira will leave the show by this fall. Vieira's departure has been expected -- she is known to be weary of the early morning grind, and wants to spend more time with her husband, Richard Cohen, who is ailing from multiple sclerosis.

A Lauer departure -- even one more than a year and a half away -- was not expected. He is one of the foundation stones of "Today," and believed to be the highest-paid figure in television news, earning between $16 million and $17 million per year.

Nevertheless, the story of Lauer's future may well lie in another figure -- 15, or the number of years he will have co-anchored "Today" by the end of 2012. His close friend and former colleague, Bryant Gumbel, was also co-anchor for 15 years. Couric was anchor for 15 years before joining "CBS Evening News" in 2006.

Is there some sort of magic to 15 years? On this show, yes. The hours are particularly daunting, with anchors rising at 2 a.m. and often working full days that don't end until 6 p.m. or later. Couric cited lifestyle as a reason for leaving when she did. So did Gumbel.

NBC News said in a statement, "There seems to be an awful lot of speculation around news anchors these days, and it's not our practice to comment on any of it. Matt Lauer has a long-term contract with NBC News and 'Today.' "

Yeah, but for how long?


Who could replace Matt and Meredith?


Goodbye, Meredith and maybe Matt, too. Now . . . who's next? There are good candidates to replace both, and they're already at NBC.




"Meet the Press"

George Stephanopoulos made the leap to "GMA."




MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

Has been a solid "Today" stand-in.





Beloved veteran; has done serious work with his production company.





Worked hard to build her news creds.




NBC News

Highly polished "Today" anchor stand-in.




CNBC's "Squawk on the Street"

Her style is very well-suited to "Today."


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