AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- With things looking up for the "Today" show after a dark period, Matt Lauer decided to stick around and NBC is happy to have him.
The network said Friday that Lauer had agreed to a contract extension to continue as co-host of the morning show, as he's been since 1997. The show is trying to recover the dominance it lost to rival "Good Morning America" the past few years.
Lauer's popularity took a major hit two years ago following the messy departure of co-host Ann Curry. Despite that, NBC's own research showed that losing Lauer would be much more damaging, and his bosses let him know he was still wanted. He told management last week that he wanted to stay, and an agreement was reached quickly. Lauer told his "Today" colleagues Thursday that he'd be staying, said an NBC executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because the network doesn't talk publicly about contracts.
Lauer's popularity has stabilized over the past year, with the percentage of negative impressions decreasing, according to Marketing Evaluations Inc., a Long Island company that measures the likeability of TV personalities.
"Matt really isn't the problem with the show," said Shelley Ross, who competed against Lauer as the former top producer at the ABC and CBS morning shows. "Matt still, I think, is one of the all-time anchor greats. I clearly think the 'Today' show is rattled. It's not the confident show it once was."
Some of Lauer's potential in-house successors -- Willie Geist, Carson Daly and Josh Elliott -- will have time now for more seasoning.
The top network morning shows all saw viewership gains during the TV season just concluded. "Good Morning America" went up 8 percent over last year to an average of 5.7 million each morning, "Today" went up 9 percent to 5.1 million and "CBS This Morning" increased 11 percent to 3.1 million, the Nielsen company said. Among younger viewers that "Today" counts on for advertising sales, it's much closer between the two top shows.
NBC said Lauer's extension was for multiple years, although it would not specify how long. Lauer's last extension was announced in 2012. Terms weren't disclosed; as the longest-lasting host in the most profitable time of day for broadcast news divisions, Lauer is certainly one of the highest-paid people in TV news.
"We couldn't be more thrilled with Matt's decision," said NBC News President Deborah Turness. "As I've said many times before, he's the best in the business, and there is nobody I would rather have in the 'Today' anchor chair than Matt."
Lauer, 56, said in a statement that "I consider this the best job in broadcasting. I love the people I work with every day and I have such respect and gratitude for the people I work for. I couldn't be happier to be staying."
Lauer began as a news anchor on "Today" in 1994 and replaced Bryant Gumbel as co-host three years later. He's worked with Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira, Curry and now Savannah Guthrie as co-hosts.
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