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I’ll leave it to the tabloids to dig up the intimate details of Tom Cruise’s Eiffel Tower wedding proposal to Katie Holmes. I’m more interested in how Today and Good Morning America, the two programs engaged in a death match for a place at the nation’s breakfast table, covered the TomKat merger.

First strike: GMA placed TomKat early in its news lineup, with a piece that aired at 7:04 am and ran just under two minutes. Today‘s story of nearly identical length didn’t run until 7:18 am.

Extended followup: Again, GMA struck first, running a reaction piece with substitute host Bill Weir interviewing Us magazine’s Katrina Szish at 7:31am; the coverage lasted just under three minutes. Today, meanwhile, didn’t get back to Cruise-Holmes until 8:11 am, with Matt Lauer interviewing MSNBC’s Allison Stewart and People‘s Larry Hackett for slightly less than five minutes.

Best scoop: As if getting MSNBC’s Stewart on Cruise’s private train wasn’t enough, Today also got an audio snippet of Cruise over the locomotive’s loudspeakers, telling passengers to ”be afraid, be very afraid.”

Best graphics: Today‘s map of France, showing the ”Live from the World Cruise” route from Paris to Marseilles, was a camp classic.

Funniest comment: Lauer’s ”If it’s a publicity stunt, it’s gone too far.”

Best way to save next week’s Cruise interview: Katie Couric’s response, ”I think they seem to be very happy — and I wish them a lot of happiness.”

Strangest comment: Weir’s ”They called a press conference to announce this. Maybe it’s some sort of Jedi mind trick where instead of being recluse, dodgy celebrities, they’re gonna lay it all out there.”

Most excessive hyperbole: In the midst of news about the war in Iraq and California’s flurry of earthquakes, Stewart calling the engagement of two film stars ”an earth-shattering announcement.”

For that, dear readers (not to mention Weir’s gratuitous Star Wars reference), methinks GMA wins this round of The Morning-Show Bakeoff.

addCredit(“Holmes & Cruise: Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage.com”)

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