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.
Lauer announced Friday on the air that he has signed a long-term contract to remain as co-host of the No. 1 morning show.
"This is my family," he said. "I love this job, I love working with you guys."
He attributed the delay to his attempts to develop a new show for himself — "where viewers could tune in every morning and see someone they know lose a little more of his hair every single day right in front of their eyes," he said.
"But then I thought, I could just stay here and do that," he added.
Although "Today" is on a historic winning streak in the ratings, "Good Morning America" has been gaining ground.
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.
Lauer said last May that he had discussed joining with Couric on a new venture. But he predicted then that he would be staying at "Today" for "a long time."
"Given how strong the 'Today' show has been, I don't think the outcome was ever in doubt," said industry analyst Larry Gerbrandt of Los Angeles-based Media Valuation Partners.
Lauer has been a fixture with the show since 1994, and "Today" has remained No. 1 in the weekly ratings since 1995. He's created a popular "Today" catchphrase with his globe-hopping "Where in the world is Matt Lauer?" segments.
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 Couric is spending the week as substitute anchor at "GMA."
Palin, the former Alaska governor, helped "Today" maintain its winning streak against "GMA" on Tuesday, but Wednesday proved a cautionary tale for NBC.
With 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.
Overall last week, "GMA" shrank its gap behind "Today" to 119,000 viewers from 137,000 the previous week.
There had been some reports that "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest could replace Lauer, and the two bantered about it Wednesday when Seacrest visited "Today" to announce he would take part in NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics.
"What kind of conversations have you had with NBC officials about joining the 'Today' show?" Lauer asked Seacrest during a lighthearted exchange.
"Oh," said Seacrest, grinning, as off-camera laughter was heard from the crew. "They didn't tell you?"