Logic and economics suggest that a fourth hour will be added to the “Today” show, NBC’s most lucrative brand outside the “Law & Order” franchise.
A decision on whether to add the fourth “Today” hour to improve NBC’s daytime ratings picture is expected before the TV industry heads to Las Vegas for the National Association of Television Program Executives syndication bazaar mid-month.
The NBCU-owned stations have no syndicated breakout hits on their lineups, or on their horizons, and have suffered chilled ratings momentum for Ellen DeGeneres’ show, which was pitted against the mighty Oprah Winfrey last fall.
“Given the challenge the NBC O&Os have faced in daytime and the success they’ve had with the third hour of `Today,’ it’s pretty likely they’ll go to a fourth,” Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television said.
Another hour of “Today” would give the stations more of a known and popular quantity and relieve the pressure to gamble on a new syndicated program from a crop that’s not causing much excitement.
“It’s been a very quiet year in terms of development,” Mr. Carroll said.
A third hour added to “Today” in 2000 has become a steady, if unflashy performer, offering a “Today”-like audience to advertisers at a lower price. According to data from Nielsen Media Research, during the week of Dec. 11, the third hour of “Today” averaged 3.7 million viewers, better than “The Early Show” on CBS and ABC’s “The View,” which is enjoying a surge with the addition of pugnacious Rosie O’Donnell.
The third hour has tended to draw younger women more than its chief competition, the older-skewing “Live With Regis and Kelly.” Adding a fourth hour would increase the possibility of “Today” going after even more younger women.
It’s unclear whether the network would consider offering more local advertising time in the additional hour to woo stations away from syndicated fare that could give them double or triple the local inventory in “Today.”
The network has said nothing definite amid the growing speculation about extending “Today,” which would most likely run from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET and be structured as two two-hour components. A spokeswoman for “Today” issued a statement that read: “Given the strength of first three hours of the `Today’ show, we can see how a fourth hour would be attractive. However, as we said to our affiliates earlier this month, no definite decision has been made.”
The network has only two soaps: the veteran “Days of Our Lives” and the 8-year-old “Passions.” The latter is considered the hour most likely to get bumped to clear space for an extended “Today.” While it attracts some young women, it gets renewed only on a year-to-year basis.
Executive producer Jim Bell recently teased the Philadelphia Inquirer by saying he’d love to talk to “Live With Regis and Kelly’s” Kelly Ripa about hosting a new “Today.”
However, Campbell Brown, the “Weekend Today” co-anchor who has attracted interest from ABC News and CBS News, is considered the leading candidate for an extended franchise.
And, as if to measure the zeitgeist, even the New York Post took notice in December when “Access Hollywood” co-host Billy Bush sat in during the third hour, which is considered a greenhouse for developing new talent for “Today” couches.