Programming

Willie Geist on Joining 'Today': No Pressure, Just Opportunity

New 9 a.m. co-host also resists speculation he is being groomed to replace Matt Lauer 10/10/2012 08:00:00 AM Eastern

Willie Geist, who was officially named co-host of Today's 9
a.m. hour
Wednesday, is joining the NBC morning show as it finds itself a firm No. 2 to ABC's Good Morning America in the ratings for the first time in 17 years. But Geist, 37, says he
doesn't feel the pressure.

"I feel the opposite, I feel complete opportunity," he said
in a phone interview. "When I go over there, which is a lot, to the Today show,
and spend time with the producers and Matt and Savannah and Al and Natalie,
there's no head-hanging. No ‘oh no, we lost our lead.' It's let's fight, let's
get it back. That's part of what attracted me to it. I think everybody
understands this is a moment of opportunity maybe a moment of a little
evolution. I don't look at it at all as walking into the number two show, I
look at it as walking into the iconic number one show that will again be the
number one show."

Geist won't start his new role until Nov. 12, to allow him
to finish out covering the election on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where he has been a co-host
with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski since 2007. But even after jumping to Today, he will continue to co-host the
6-7 a.m. hour of Joe.

"I wanted to keep a foot in the Morning Joe political world
as well," said Geist, who has a degree in political science from Vanderbilt University. "I feel like I'm not giving up too much, I'm just gaining,
which is great."

He will however have to give up hosting his 5:30 a.m. MSNBC show Way
Too Early with Willie Geist
, which he created in 2009, though the program will continue on the network
with another host, to be named in the coming months.

Under his new contract, he will also add a presence in the NBC
Sports Group, where he will report for the Olympics (as he did at the recent London Games) and contribute to NBC Sports Network,
possibly with a weekly or monthly show. He will also continue as a contributor to
NBC News programs like Nightly News and Rock Center with Brian Williams.

Geist, whose previous contract expired at the end of
September, said the opportunities offered across the NBCUniversal portfolio, as well as
the chance to join the iconic Today brand, were what kept him from jumping to a
competing network.

"If you look at the total picture of it all, it was
impossible to say no to," he said.

Geist said he hopes to bring the same loose, unscripted feel
of Morning Joe to the 9 a.m. hour, which he says will play to his strengths as
well as those of fellow co-hosts Al Roker and Natalie Morales. And while he
will continue to serve as a backup for Matt Lauer in the 7-9 a.m. hours
occasionally, alongside Savannah Guthrie, he doesn't see his new appointment as the first step in being
groomed to replace the 54-year-old anchor.

"I do not see it as the first step," he insisted. "I expect
I'll fill in for him sometimes but not all the time. There's no primarily
fill-in [anchor]; if there is it's not me because I don't know about it."

October