Tuning Into TV: Matt Lauer tells viewers he’s staying at ‘Today’

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Matt Lauer is sticking with NBC’s “Today,” ending speculation that the top-rated show might have to face ABC’s rising “Good Morning America” without him.

Mr. Lauer has signed a long-term contract to remain as co-host of the No. 1 morning show, a long-expected deal that NBC announced Thursday night and Mr. Lauer confirmed on “Today” on Friday morning.

“This is my family,” he said on the air as the “Today” crew and co-anchors burst into applause.

Although “Today” is on a historic winning streak in the ratings, “Good Morning America” has been gaining ground.

Mr. Lauer’s decision provides important stability for “Today” and puts to rest suggestions that he might reunite with his former co-host Katie Couric on the syndicated show she’s launching this fall.

Mr. Lauer said last May that he had discussed joining with Ms. Couric on a new venture. But he predicted then that he would be staying at “Today” for “a long time.”

Mr. Lauer has been a fixture with the show since 1994 and began his run as co-anchor in January 1997. “Today” has remained No. 1 in the weekly ratings since 1995.

For broadcast networks, morning represents one of the most important parts of the day. The shows are hugely profitable at a time of declining TV viewership, and none has been more of a cash cow than “Today.”

The morning scene drew increased attention this week as the NBC and ABC programs featured dueling celebrity co-hosts: “Today” had Sarah Palin for a day, while Ms. Couric spent the week filling in at “GMA.”

Flagged in advance, Mr. Lauer’s announcement Friday was likely to also serve as a ratings stunt against his onetime colleague.

Mrs. Palin, the former Alaska governor, helped “Today” maintain its winning streak against “GMA” on Tuesday, but Wednesday proved a cautionary tale for NBC. With Ms. Couric on board, “Good Morning America” was able to claim a one-day victory in viewership over “Today.”

About 5.24 million viewers watched “GMA,” while 5.15 million viewers tuned into “Today,” according to the Nielsen Co.

ABC’s advantage was the latest twist in a morning-show battle that has seen “GMA” chipping away at the ratings lead that “Today” has maintained every week for 16 years.

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