NBC News waited until the day it could boast that Today had won the weekly ratings race in both total viewers and the news demo for the first since since 2012 to confirm Willie Geist’s move to Sunday Today show starts April 17.
The Sunday show will be be reconfigured to take advantage of Geist’s voice, with focus on in-depth features, and a more reflective pace than currently seen on Today’s weekend iterations. The show will broadcast from Studio 1A, but with new graphics and music.
It’s just the beginning of gradual changes you might notice to the NBC News program, now that the division appears to have stabilized the 7-9 AM Today mothership. And, with the Rio Olympics coming this summer, Noah Oppenheim, the Today veteran who returned one year ago this month, is expected to begin making good on media forecasts he’d been brought in to look for other opportunities to evolve the franchise and maximize ratings.
But Oppenheim’s first move is Geist in the Sunday edition, which ranks No. 3 of three in the genre. The No. 1-rated CBS Sunday Morning continues to dominate the time slot leading in to the Sunday Beltway shows. In overall audience, its 6 million viewers runs laps around ABC’s Sunday edition of Good Morning America (3.7M) and NBC’s Today (3.5M). In the news demo, CBS Sunday Morning also dominates.
Not coincidentally, the Geist move comes as CBS’ reflective-paced Sunday show is planning for a future without longtime host Charles Osgood. And veteran Today show host Jane Pauley, now a CBS Sunday Morning contributor, leads the list of possible replacements.
As to other experiments to grow NBC’s brand, if only we had a buck for every month it’s been speculated Billy Bush is a done deal to join Today. That report revved up again when we learned Geist would begin appearing on Sundays, though Geist is continuing with all of his many other Today weekday duties, as well as his role on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. And, anyway, most industry wags don’t expect any major Bush sighting until fall, what with the longtime Access Hollywood host under contract to that other NBCU program.
Plus, no industry watchers will be surprised should the popular Hoda Kotb, who currently hosts the 10 AM hour with Kathie Lee Gifford, show up more often in the earlier, 9 AM time slot, where there is clearly room for growth. Meanwhile, Jenna Bush Hager’s name comes up a lot as an up-and-comer at the franchise, and is expected to be seen more often in the hours after 9. What you likely won’t see, as Oppenheim experiments in different hours and days, is a big announcement leading to another “Ann Curry moment,” a reference to the disastrous June 2012 removal of Curry as mothership co-host, which has become part of the news industry slanguage for a botched on-air talent change.
News of Geist’s new Sunday gig broke earlier this month, triggering a sort of industry parlor game ruminating as to whether it marks a promotion or demotion for the host who had been presumed to be the talent-in-training to replace Matt Lauer in the cash cow 7-9 AM block. But, that game is predicated on the belief Lauer is mulling retirement. Not everyone’s buying into that storyline:
“There is no successor to Matt Lauer because he’s never going to give it up,” said one doubter. “He’s making an obscene amount of money…and has ‘his guy’ running the news division. If you or I had that job we’d hang on to it as long as Sumner Redstone. He’s never going away.”