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By Brian Stelter, CNN
Ryan Seacrest has a few big decisions to make.
His contract to host "American Idol," once the biggest television show in the United States and still a linchpin of Fox's lineup, expires when the singing competition's next season ends in May. Another of his contracts, a wide-ranging one with NBCUniversal, comes due around the same time. Both are likely to be renewed in some form; the requisite talks are already underway. But the decisions in front of Seacrest — ones that any broadcaster would be glad to be facing — highlight how he's been able to work for so many competing media companies simultaneously. He recently extended his contract to host "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" for ABC and he leads two radio shows for Clear Channel.
When I interviewed him for CNN's "Reliable Sources" last Friday and asked how he pulls off this pretty unique juggling act, he joked about making sure to always remember which network he's on at any given time: "When I'm on Fox, I want to remember 'Fox.'"
More seriously, he added, "I really believe that every single one of those partnerships is equally as important."
He carved out time for the interview during the Los Angeles portion of Jingle Ball, Clear Channel's annual concert series in cities across the country. Seacrest's deal with the radio giant, valued at $25 million a year, will come up for renewal in 2015, according to people with direct knowledge of the deal terms. (They insisted on anonymity while discussing private contract details.)
But his business relationships with Fox and NBC require more urgent reconsideration. When I asked him if he'll continue to host "Idol" after this season, which begins in January and ends in May, he said, "I hope to host as long as they want me to host."
Seacrest acknowledged his dissatisfaction with the sharp ratings declines that "Idol" has suffered, particularly in the season that ended last May.
"We obviously did not deliver … the numbers that we wanted to deliver," he said before asserting that he had lost slept over the relative weakness of the ratings.
Looking ahead to this season, which involves an almost entirely new team of producers and judges, he said, "I want people to watch, and I want people who perhaps didn't watch last season to come back and see their 'American Idol' this season because we have put the show back together in a fun way."
I also asked Seacrest about NBC's "Today" show, since his current deal with NBCUniversal includes a special correspondent role on the morning show. Around the time the deal was struck in the spring of 2012, there was informed speculation in the press about Seacrest being in line to someday replace Matt Lauer on "Today." Lauer asked Seacrest about his interest in the "Today" show during an April 2012 interview:
LAUER: Do you see yourself doing a job like this?
SEACREST: You know, I don't know. I see you doing this for as long as you want to, so maybe the question is, how long will you be on the 'Today' show? … Because fans, myself included, think you should be here for years to come.
Subsequently, Seacrest has said that Lauer should host the "Today" show for as long as he wants to. So I asked him if hosting "Today" was still a possibility, and he answered this way: "Look, I mean, as far as I'm concerned, everything is a - I hope everything is a possibility. You know, I like to leave every door open. If it is open, I think that's up to them to decide."
At the moment, the door is not open — Lauer has not telegraphed any plans to leave the show. But NBC executives are dutifully thinking about a "Today" show succession plan anyway. In the interview, I told Seacrest that I thought he might be "too big" for the "Today" show — because he has too many other jobs and business ventures — but he circled back to his interest in the possibility, citing his love for live broadcasting.
"I truly thrive off of being on-air or on-stage in a live environment," he said.
NBC tried to launch a live prime time game show, "Million Second Quiz," with Seacrest as the host earlier this fall. "Quiz" turned in disappointing ratings; postmortems focused on the overly complicated game-play. NBC executives said they were pleased with Seacrest's performance.