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Unstable times for TV hosts

Updated: April 2, 2013 7:16PM

Matt Lauer is on his way out as host of “Today.” It’s only a matter of time.

Or is that really the case? Maybe Lauer will be there for another 10 years, if he can just weather this storm.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck? She’s gone from “The View”!

Wait. Not so fast.

Ah, but Jay Leno should start cleaning out his “Tonight Show” desk. Jimmy Fallon’s on deck, ready to take over in New York!

One of these days.

As for Barbara Walters, the legend herself is retiring!

Except that’s news to her.

Why is everybody trying to kick everybody out of television? In the annals of awkward transitions, leaked stories, high-level bickering, daily rumor-mongering and just overall madness, I don’t think we’ve ever witnessed a time when so many high-profile TV personalities were embroiled in so many potential exit stories at the same time.

It’s like the non-fiction, talk-show version of “The Walking Dead,” where even the most popular and enduring cast members know they might not last another week.

Should I stay or should I go?

There’s always a risk of being hoaxed on April Fool’s Day, but Barbara Walters seemed utterly sincere when she announced on “The View” she had no announcement to make — which was quite an announcement, given the reports last week Walters would be retiring in May 2014.

“The paparazzi were outside my home today,” said Walters. “However, here I am, and I have no announcement to make. But … if and when I have an announcement to make, I will do it on this program … and the paparazzi guys … will be the last to know.” Well, that’s going to break the heart of that cartoony-sounding voice-over guy that snarks up all those “TMZ” segments.

The trailblazing Walters is 83 and she’s had a number of health scares in the last few years, but here’s hoping she keeps on broadcasting for as long as she possibly can.

Later Monday evening, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon did a telephonic musical parody of “West Side Story,” singing a duet:

Fallon: “ Tonight, tonight, who’s gonna host ‘Tonight,’ is it gonna be Jimmy or Jay? Tonight, tonight, where will they take ‘Tonight,’ in New York, will it stay in L.A.?”

Leno: “Tonight, tonight, my ratings were all right, 20 years and I’m still in first place! Tonight, tonight, I’ve got Fox on the line, or maybe I could take over for Dave!”

It was funny, but just … insane. Inside baseball turned into a skit, with Nice Guy Jay and Nice Guy Jimmy letting us know they’re OK with each other, no matter how this all plays out.

Good to see NBC learned from the Jay-Conan debacle from way back in 2010, right?

Bungle in the TV jungle

The suits at NBC are also handling the “Today” show with as much finesse as the Hulk trying to thread a Pandora bracelet. For years Matt Lauer came across as a likable team player — a terrific host, interviewer and steady team captain for the “Today” show’s winning morning team. But after “Good Morning America” vaulted past “Today” in the ratings, Ann Curry was dumped in humiliating fashion — with Lauer behind the scenes pulling the strings, or so we’re led to believe by a good percentage of the approximately 43,546 leaked stories of the last month.

Remember the good old days, when one host would retire or move on, and another host would show up and just, you know, do the show? Now the controversies play out behind the scenes and on the air, with the beleaguered hosts shooting verbal arrows at the very execs trying to squeeze them out.

Meanwhile, everyone’s still cashing weekly paychecks that look like yearly income statements for most of their audience.

Of course, the quest for ratings — in particular, that coveted younger demographic — is fueling every one of these controversies. Even as the viewing pie gets sliced ever so thin, the old-school networks are still desperately chasing that proverbial 32-year-old young professional with disposable income who’s not so set in his buying ways he can’t be swayed by an awesome ad.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a legendary pioneer such as Barbara Walters, or a loyal moneymaking machine such as Jay Leno. It doesn’t matter if you’re Conan or Dave or one of the Jimmys or an iconic newsman trusted by tens of millions to deliver the truth. Some day, somebody probably half your age with a corner office and a title is going to scheme to get you out of there, in the name of saving their own carcass.

And he’s more likely than not to turn the whole transition into a bungled, very public mess.

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