Move would extend morning show until 11 a.m.

NBC is considering adding a fourth hour to “Today,” a move that would extend the morning show until 11 a.m. and reshape the syndication market.

Talk of a fourth hour has been more of a watercooler punchline than a serious proposal in the halls of 30 Rock ever since “Today” added a third hour in 2000.

But with “Today” well ahead of its ayem competition — in the eight weeks since Katie Couric’s departure, “Today” has kept a 20% ratings advantage over second-place “GMA,” nearly double its advantage in the same period last year — and all the nets looking to cut costs in daytime, the idea is being studied as a serious option.

“It has been serious for a while,” said NBC News senior VP Phil Griffin, who oversees “Today.” “They haven’t pulled the trigger on it and I don’t know if they ever will, but if they do, we’re ready.”

The success of “Today’s” third hour has proved the show’s producers can program for the female auds who dominate the timeslots after 8 a.m. A fourth hour would put “Today” in competition with a variety of syndicated programming and, in some markets, ABC’s “The View.”

NBC U’s “Martha” runs in many of those time periods on the NBC-owned stations after “Today,” to survivable ratings.

If NBC brass greenlights the fourth hour, “Today” soon will have the physical capacity to make it happen.

A renovation of the show’s street-level studio is scheduled for completion Sept. 13, in time for the relaunch of the show with Meredith Vieira and conversion to high-definition.

“Today” also is adding space. A second, upstairs studio and a permanent kitchen are being built to give second- and third-hour segments more breathing room. The show has taken on additional adjacent space in 30 Rock for more dressing rooms and enough hair and makeup space to accommodate a marching band.

“We certainly have all we need to do three hours of compelling morning television and who knows, someday maybe more,” said “Today” exec producer Jim Bell.

Launched by then-exec producer Jeff Zucker, the third hour, known as “Today II,” has established itself as an alternative to “Live With Regis & Kelly” and a proving ground for bringing new personalities into the “Today” fold.

That function has assumed additional importance this year with the departure of Couric to CBS’ “Evening News.”

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