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NBC Mulls Changes to 9 a.m. Hour of ‘Today’

NBC is feeling its oats in the morning.

Having stabilized the performance of the first two hours of its long-running “Today” show after that flagship program lost standing to ABC rival “Good Morning  America,” NBC is moving to bolster other parts of the “Today” franchise, and could be willing to shuffle some of its on-air talent to do so.

NBC is mulling changes to the 9 a.m. hour of “Today,” according to four people familiar with the situation, though no plans have been finalized. One idea being considered would tweak the format of that hour to make it lighter in tone and compete more directly with its rivals, which include ABC’s syndicated powerhouse “Live! With Kelly and Michael.” Discussions among producers and talent are said to be “collaborative,” according to one person familiar with the program.

If that shift were to happen, some members of the hour’s current on-air crew, which consists of Natalie Morales, Al Roker, Willie Geist and Tamron Hall, might not feel the new environment plays to individual strengths, and could consider moving off that part of “Today,” two of these people said. Billy Bush, a popular anchor associated with NBCUniversal’s syndicated “Access Hollywood,” is under strong consideration to join the”Today” crew once his current contract with “Access” is complete, three of these people said.

Chatter about the potential maneuvers surfaces as “Today” has gained ground against “GMA.” The NBC morning program, which has been on the air since 1952, leads its Walt Disney-owned counterpart in the number of people it lures between 25 and 54, the demographic most coveted by advertisers in news programming. Season to date as of March 10, “Today” has attracted 8% more viewers in the category, according to Nielsen. Even so, “GMA” continues as the nation’s most popular morning program, winning the most viewers overall.

With that in mind, NBC appears to be contemplating new strategies to make other parts of “Today” more robust. The network has not announced the move publicly, but Geist is expected in April to begin hosting a revamped Sunday version of “Today” that is more thoughtful and reflective in tone than its current edition.  It’s a bid to make that program dovetail more seamlessly with NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sundays as well as take on CBS’ popular “CBS Sunday Morning” at a moment of transition. CBS appears to be engineering a passing of the baton from current host Charles Osgood to contributor Jane Pauley.

While the two hours anchored by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie tend to get the lion’s share of attention – and advertising dollars – “Today” is an empire, of sorts. NBC airs more hours under the “Today” umbrella during the week and on weekends than Fox airs in primetime. So NBC has reason to add new polish to all the programs. Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb host a much looser hour at 10 a.m. on weekdays.

“Today’s” 9 a.m. hour starts off tilting towards the newsy, and then gets decidedly lighter as the hour progresses. Morales typically anchors a “News with Natalie” segment that airs in the program’s first half hour. NBC launched the third hour in 2000.

All four hosts of the third hour of “Today” are entrenched at NBCUniversal. Hall anchors an hour weekdays on MSNBC and hosts a show on the cable network Investigation Discovery that is produced by NBC News’ Peacock Productions unit.  Geist is a key player on MSNBC’s  “Morning Joe,” and will have the new Sunday duties. And Morales and Roker are staples of the “Today” flagship, appearing alongside Lauer and Guthrie each weekday.

Yet there is always the possibility that rivals might use any change to try and woo them. At least one NBC competitor has expressed interest in talking to Morales should she choose to seek new options, according to two people familiar with the matter.


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