Gail Shister | 'Today' will get longer, adding a fourth hour in the fall

Today will add a fourth hour in the fall. Book it.

NBC officials will announce the expansion tomorrow at the TV Critics Association winter meetings in Pasadena, Calif. Book that, too.

Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira will continue coanchoring the 7-to-9 a.m. mothership. Ann Curry and Al Roker, now doing the 9 a.m. hour, will stick around until 11.

The extra hour is coming a year earlier than originally planned, due to pressure from NBC station managers. (More on that below.) Contrary to industry buzz, no new on-air talent will be brought in to anchor the 10 a.m. hour, NBC insiders say.

Some faces from within the NBC family will appear from time to time, however, including Billy Bush and Maria Menounos of NBC Universal's syndicated Access Hollywood, according to the sources.

Don't be surprised if ex-Giants smoothie Tiki Barber joins the Today franchise as a contributor on men's health, fashion and lifestyle.

Everyone and his brother is hot for the just-retired Barber. The football star recently turned down a four-year, $10 million deal with Disney because it would have required too much travel, for ESPN's NFL games, sources say.

If NBC got him, Barber would work an easier schedule and would stay close to New York during football season, sources say.

NBC's goal is to maintain Today's continuity from 9 to 11 a.m. The network learned that lesson the hard way from 1999's short-lived Later Today, with Jodi Applegate, Asha Blake, and former Brady Bunch mom Florence Henderson.

The 9 a.m. Later Today, an entertainment-driven Today Lite, was a goofy mishmash with no news or weather reports. NBC's Jeff Zucker labeled it "a cousin" in the NBC family. Cuz quickly crashed and burned.

With Today's extra hour, it's expected that executive producer Jim Bell will add five to 10 people to his 100-plus staff. Already NBC's biggest cash cow, the current Today generates an estimated $250 million profit per year.

Early last week, Today staffers were told that NBC had decided to wait until fall '08 for the expansion, sources say. That didn't play well with NBC station managers, who are in Las Vegas this week rolling the programming dice. They pushed for fall '07.

Here's why: Like their brethren around the country, NBC suits are in Vegas shopping for syndicated fall shows at the annual National Association of Television Programming Executives (NAPTE) convention.

Contracts for syndicated programming usually run two years. If NBC wanted to launch the four-hour Today in fall '08, many stations would be forced to break deals. That would mean big penalty fees.

NBC stations pushed for an answer before NATPE began yesterday. Late Friday, NBC reversed its course and moved up the debut to fall '07. Now NBC managers won't have to hustle for 10 a.m. shows.

Piling on. As if losing wasn't enough hurt, Eagles fans got another slap in the face during Fox's telecast of the Birds' NFC playoff heartbreaker against the Saints in New Orleans Saturday.

As Fox's cameras panned across the raucous Superdome crowd, the network flashed on a woman wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with an obscenity referring to the Eagles. Naturally, the clip is on

A Fox rep says the shot was "definitely unintentional." The network is sorry and feels badly about it, he adds.

Aniston on "Dirt." It never hurts when your BFF is the boss, not to mention the star.

Jennifer Aniston will pop up on the season finale of the dishy new drama Dirt, FX announced yesterday. Courteney Cox is Dirt's star and co-executive producer. The episode airs March 24.

Aniston will play Tina Harrod, a tabloid editor and rival of Cox's Lucy Spiller, czarina of DirtNow.

It marks the first time that Cox and Aniston have worked together since NBC's Friends retired in '04 after 10 seasons.

Moyers redux. Bill Moyers, 72, who stepped down from his weekly PBS series, Now, in '04, will return to the public network with Bill Moyers Journal beginning in April.

The debut episode of Journal - the handle of his series in the '70s - will focus on the media's role in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

Contact TV columnist Gail Shister at 215-854-2224 or Read her recent work at