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Couric's record salary may raise the bar for some of news' top tier

host Katie Couric's record-setting payday to remain at NBC has prompted speculation about which top TV news personalities would follow her into the $13 million-a-year club. Diane Sawyer's name was high on the list.

Some suggested it wasn't necessarily a precedent-setting move. Executives speaking on background said that Couric and Today
are a "somewhat unique situation," as one news vice president put it last week. The program generates about $300 million a year in profit for NBC, so paying Couric a few million more a year to maintain the show's stability seems a good investment for the network, a competing network executive said.

Couric re-upped for another five years at the top-rated network morning show. Her new deal keeps her at the network through 2006 at an annual salary of around $13 million, or $65 million for the next five years, sources said. That makes her the highest-paid TV journalist. A bevy of news personalities—notably Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw—are said to be paid about $10 million a year each.

Several others aren't quite there but are still making a good living: ABC News Nightline
anchor Ted Koppel makes about $8 million; CBS Early Show's Bryant Gumbel, about $6 million. Matt Lauer, the other host of Today, is a bit of a laggard at an estimated $4 million a year. "It will be interesting to see whether Matt Lauer demands a bigger paycheck in light of Katie's deal," the executive said, "and whether NBC pays to maintain the current on-air chemistry there." But sources also say Lauer renewed his contract within the past year and is in place for at least four years.

If NBC is willing to pay for stability, others wondered whether ABC would be forced to pay Sawyer more to keep her at Good Morning America, the second-ranked morning show, recently starting to gain ground on Today. Season to date through Dec. 9, GMA is up 17% in total viewers; Today
is down 8% in the same category. "If anyone has a shot at matching Katie," says one TV news agent (not Sawyer's), "I think it would be Diane."

No syndicated show or production company is tied to Couric's deal; the contract does let her do a syndication show through NBC, though none is currently planned.