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NBC Expanding Lucrative Today

More than seven years after expanding to three hours, Today is poised to morph into a fourth hour. And while network executives are cautiously optimistic on the record, they are banking that a longer show will mean longer green for the already lucrative morning franchise.

“The third hour has been a massive commercial and financial success for this news division,” says Today executive producer Jim Bell, adding that the more feature driven third hour has been fertile ground to try new things and give producers and correspondents valuable on-the-job training.

As for the fourth hour, says Bell, “our hopes are high that it’s going to do pretty well.”

As reported previously by B&C, Ann Curry, Natalie Morales and Hoda Kotb will anchor the fourth hour with NBC News correspondents including Amy Robach, David Gregory, Giada DeLaurentiis, Jenna Wolfe, Nancy Snyderman and Tiki Barber rotating as co-anchors. There also will be “surprise” guest host appearances by newsmakers of the day. Today senior producer Amy Rosenblum will oversee the fourth hour of Today.

The additional hour has been cleared in 96 % of the country; with the 90 % committing to carry it at 10 a.m. (keeping the entire four hour franchise together) or 11 a.m.; nine of the top ten markets will carry the fourth hour at 10 a.m., according to NBC.

Today has been the No. 1 morning show since 1995. But the audience erosion that had plagued all of broadcast television is catching up with the morning franchise, which is down 6 % year to year. (ABC’s Good Morning America, a perennial No. 2, is down 2 % while CBS’ the Early Show, which is a distant third, has managed a 1 % up-tick.)

“Look, we’re fighting a tough game in all day parts,” says Bell. “But for us the good news is we’re still winning and as a brand the Today show is as healthy as it’s ever been, if not healthier.”

Bell touted the show’s web presence and amortization across digital platforms. The fourth hour, he added, will be “a less formatted” more “spontaneous” environment driven by women’s issues including health care.

As for the media chatter about “diluting the franchise,” Bell chalks that up to “one of those Chicken Little phrases that got trotted out for the third hour,” which launched in 2000.

“People who are watching the third hour,” he says, “will watch the fourth. There’s a lot of appetite for more programming from our audience.”

The fourth hour of Today will launch September 10th.