- - Sunday, April 8, 2012

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.

TV show ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ will test celebrities

A new TV competition series that tests celebrities against the demands of military exercises will be produced for NBC.

“Stars Earn Stripes” is the working title of the show from veteran producers Dick Wolf (“Law & Order”) and Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “The Voice”). Nine celebrities from music, sports and Hollywood will be paired with trainers at a “top-notch, secret training facility,” the producers said in a statement Thursday.

The contestants will face weekly challenges such as hostage-rescue exercises or placing a laser target atop a mountain.

Mr. Burnett, who joined the British military at age 17 and served as a paratrooper, said celebrities and the audience will realize how “hard and scary” such tasks are.

An air date for “Stars Earn Stripes” wasn’t announced.

Muscular Dystrophy Association show leaving Vegas

A year after the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon split with comedian and longtime host Jerry Lewis, the Labor Day weekend show is leaving Las Vegas.

An official at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, where the event was held last year without Mr. Lewis, said Friday that association executives had decided to move it to the Los Angeles area.

“Last year the MDA made us aware they were looking to make a change, so the recent news comes as no surprise,” resort marketing chief Tom Mikovits told the Associated Press. “We are proud to have hosted the Labor Day Telethon for the last six years, and we wish the MDA all the best in the future.”

Hotel owner Michael Gaughan told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the show would be shortened to three hours and broadcast from CBS studios in Culver City, Calif. Mr. Gaughan was traveling and unavailable Friday.

“The show is being put together,” said Roxan Olivas, a Muscular Dystrophy Association spokeswoman in Tucson, Ariz. She declined to provide details.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Lewis said the entertainer and host of the telethon for more than four decades was traveling and probably wouldn’t comment about the MDA move.

Mr. Lewis turned 86 on March 16 and lives in Las Vegas. He was MDA national chairman from the early 1950s to 2011. He started the Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon in 1966 with a nearly 22-hour show at a single TV station in New York.

The event moved to Las Vegas in 1973, and had stints in Los Angeles before moving to Mr. Gaughan’s hotel.

Mr. Lewis’ absence last year ended a 45-year run in which officials credit him with raising $1.66 billion for research and aid for those living with the degenerative inherited muscular disease.

Despite Mr. Lewis’ absence, telethon officials reported raising $61.5 million Sept. 4 in a six-hour show with several hosts.

Mr. Lewis, who once teamed with comedian Dean Martin, grew into a film icon with antics and characters including Julius Kelp in “The Nutty Professor.”

He was nominated in 1977 for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the telethon and muscular dystrophy relief.

Oprah calls her new cable venture a tough climb

Oprah Winfrey says creating her new cable network has turned out to be a steep climb.

“I’m climbing Kilimanjaro,” she told advertisers Thursday at a presentation for the Oprah Winfrey Network. She quickly explained that her Kilimanjaro is at the offices of OWN.

The network has struggled to build an audience since its launch in January 2011. It recently announced severe staff layoffs and a management shake-up with Discovery Communications, the company that has bankrolled it with more than $300 million.

But Miss Winfrey struck a hopeful note in her brief remarks, even as she acknowledged she’s still nowhere near the channel’s summit of success.

“With our restructuring and right-sizing and getting into the sauce of what needs to happen every day, I feel like I can at least now see the summit,” she said.

OWN was unveiling four new prime-time series, including “Elura and Michele Take Staten Island,” a reality series with two outspoken former prosecutors who tell people how to straighten out their problems; “Iyanla Fix My Life,” starring the author and inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant; “Married to the Army: Alaska,” which focuses on Alaska-based wives and families of military troops who are off serving in Afghanistan; and “Six Little McGhees,” about high school sweethearts Mia and Rozonno McGhee, parents of the first sextuplets born in Columbus, Ohio.

In addition, OWN will introduce a new game show, “Are You Normal, America?” It measures its contestants’ opinions and habits against those of the nation overall.