What Ryan Seacrest's Future Means for Television

Illustration by Riccardo Vecchio

Call it the apotheosis of the anodyne. As an unflappably happy host, Ryan Seacrest’s personality is nonthreatening and family-friendly, and given his presence across television and radio, it’s also everywhere. In an age when celebrity scandals, romantic dramas, and fashion gaffes run an extremely profitable news cycle, he’s a permanently smiling contradiction.

It helps that his career is built around being a milquetoast middleman between Hollywood and the masses. He’s well known as the host of American Idol and co-anchor of E! News, as well as a red-carpet correspondent for the pre-Oscars special, emcee of ABC’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, and host of the syndicated radio show On Air With Ryan Seacrest. Despite the legions of teenage girls who reportedly chase him for autographs, Seacrest trades on being an outsider with access—he’s in the celebrity world, but not necessarily of it.

His reach will soon extend to sharper fare. Thanks to an expanded contract with NBCUniversal, announced in late April, Seacrest will cover the London Olympics, Today show segments, and possibly the presidential election. The move is a testament to his appeal, but it’s also a sign of the waning separation between news and entertainment and the rising pressures of live-event coverage. Seacrest’s career trajectory is an indication of the difficulties his employers are having attracting an audience for which his easily digestible image could at least be a salve, if not a solution.

NBC’s ratings stalwart Today has most recently been losing ground to ABC’s Good Morning America. The network is also ramping up for the Summer Olympics, the rights to which cost $1.18 billion (the last time the network aired the Games, in 2010, it lost $223 million on the investment). Over at E!, Seacrest’s cable home, new chair Bonnie Hammer is introducing scripted shows to the reality-TV haven’s lineup, signaling a departure from the fare Seacrest does best. If the dusk of unscripted television should ever arrive, his new role as a straight-faced host will allow him to retain his perch. What’s more, his stack of contracts manages to cross networks, a rare form of leverage.

Since he started as host of American Idol, the Fox show that put him in front of 13 million viewers in 2002 and recently re-signed him for another two years, Seacrest has launched an eponymous production company responsible for the slew of Kardashian-family reality shows as well as Bravo’s new hit Shahs of Sunset. He has negotiated corporate-sponsorship deals that monetize his popularity and saddled up with Mark Cuban as a minor shareholder in the rebranding of Cuban’s HDNet channel. CAA, the agency that currently represents him, is a partner in the HDNet rebranding, and Clear Channel, which signs his reported $20 million–a–year radio contract, has a minority stake in Ryan Seacrest Productions. On screen and off, he’s a good ally to have—at least as long as he can retain his sheen as the hardest-working man on the airwaves.