Now that the cat's out of the bag on Matt Lauer's 2012 departure via a sensational scoop at ETonline last night, the obvious question becomes - who can replace him?
At NBC, the obvious answer is: No one.
In today's Newsday, I speculated briefly - because that's what we do - on possible replacements, mentioning Willie Geist, Al Roker, and David Gregory. What I didn't say, mostly for reasons of space, is this - none of them are likely to take Matt's place. Geist has a long way to go before viewers get to know him and get comfortable with him, and at the end of that long process, there's no guarantee they will. Gregory hasn't exactly lit up the boards at "Meet the Press," and I suspect viewers on "Today" would not like him anyway. And "like" is a big part of this equation.
Finally, Al: No, never, not now, not in a million years. Everyone like's Al, but too many years of clowning around, and wearing stupid costumes, and being the resident jokester have effectively stripped him of even a scintilla of gravitas. So he's out.
Lester Holt? Why doesn't Lester Holt get named in these lists? Good question, and I suspect the answer is that NBC doesn't want to mention him, or would have. As good and solid as Holt is, he lacks that vital looseness and easy repartee that a "Today" host must have. He's solid in every other way - and good, and smart, and hard-working and all those nice things. But on the air, he's a little stiff. And that's just the way it goes.
CNBC's Carl Quintanilla? He's a possible candidate, but who in the "Today" audience knows him? Again...years are needed to groom a successor, not weeks, months.
Who's left? Sorry. No one. If David Bloom were still alive, he would be the heir apparent; and as a "Today" weekend anchor, that was obvious from the get-go.
A smart person told me to keep an eye on this question: Who will replace Ann Curry if she takes over for Meredith Vieira, as many expect? Reason: The person who replaces her, likely a man, will be the person who replaces Matt. Don't forget - Matt was news anchor starting in '94, and got three good long years (while also working "Today in New York") before he was moved in.
The fact is, Matt's replacement doesn't have three good long years. He has a year and eight months. That's a blink of an eye in "Today" show terms.