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Katie Couric

TUBE TALK Our long national nightmare is over: Katie Couric has re-upped with NBC through 2006. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it’s estimated at $60 to $65 million over the five years. That’s double the $5 to $7 million a year the ”Today” host reportedly earns now, and it puts her in the same ballpark as Barbara Walters, the nightly news anchors, and the rest of TV’s highest-paid news personalities.

The deal also leaves a window open for Couric to do other things at NBC, like primetime specials and ”Dateline NBC” reports. However, she says, ”I would love to stay at the ‘Today’ show as long as they want me, and as long as I feel like I’m doing fun, exciting work.” That must come as a relief to NBC, where Couric’s 10-year tenure at ”Today” has helped make the morning newschat one of the network’s most profitable programs and made the perky host one of NBC’s most popular assets. In recent months, since the departure of innovative executive producer Jeff Zucker a year ago and the turn toward harder news since Sept. 11, ”Today” has been losing ratings ground to its competitors, so it would have been a possibly fatal blow to lose Couric as well when her contract expired next spring.

Now NBC can breathe easy, having renegotiated Couric’s pact before the network’s self-imposed deadline, ”Today”’s 50th anniversary next month. Until the next nail-biter: renegotiating Tom Brokaw‘s contract, which expires in March….

SOUND BITES For the fourth straight week, Creed‘s ”Weathered” was the Billboard chart’s top album, and for the second straight week, sales of most of the top 10 records rose by tens of thousands of copies instead of declining, like they do when record stores aren’t filled with holiday shoppers. ”Weathered” sold 555,100 copies (according to SoundScan), about 97,000 more than last week and 137,000 more than the week before. ”NOW That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 8” spent a third week at No. 2, selling 403,650 CDs, up 39,000 from last week. Britney Spears‘ ”Britney” continued to revive, climbing one spot to No. 3 and selling 298,975 units (up 34,000). Garth Brooks‘ ”Scarecrow” bounced back two spaces to No. 4 (281,650 sold, up 40,000). Mannheim Steamroller‘s ”Christmas Extraordinaire” stayed at No. 5, selling 275,375 copies, up 33,000 from last week.

”NOW That’s What I Call Christmas!” was the only top 10 release to show a drop in sales, falling three spots to No. 6. Nickelback‘s ”Silver Side Up” rose two places to No. 7. Enya</b.'s ''A Day Without Rain'' slid one space to No. 8. The only new album among the top 10 was No Doubt‘s ”Rock Steady,” debuting at No. 9. Linkin Park‘s ”Hybrid Theory” climbed back up to No. 10.

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