By Ken Tucker
Updated April 06, 2011 at 01:41 PM EDT
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First, I hope Meredith Vieira doesn’t leave the Today show — she’s intelligent and funny and can handle every sort of segment, a tricky skill. Still, if the reports are true about her exit when her contract is up in September, her replacement will be crucial to the Today show’s ratings, as well as the chemistry with her coanchor Matt Lauer. With that in mind, let’s pick some possibilities:

Rachel Maddow She works for the same network, and heaven knows this MSNBC host is smart enough, and funny enough, to handle both breaking news and, say, cooking segments (Maddow has already proved to be an excellent cocktail-maker). But, as a serious commentator, would she want to do this kind of broadcast? And would America take this proud liberal into its collective heart?

Megyn Kelly Here’s an intriguing left-field, right-wing idea. Kelly, a popular Fox News Channel host who already does two hours of daily news with articulate ease and the wits of the lawyer she trained to be, would certainly bring new eyeballs to The Today Show. But would she suffer the same sexist fate as Deborah Norville (1990-91), and just be perceived as A Pretty Face? And would America take this proud conservative into its collective heart?

Chelsea Handler This is only if NBC wants to turn the first hours of the Today show into an even loopier version of the part that Kathie Lee and Hoda host. (“Vodka Vednesdays,” anyone?) I’d hate to see how she’d manage to report an international crisis, but just watching Matt Lauer’s appalled reactions might make many mornings amusing.

Melissa Harris-Perry Who? This Princeton professor is a frequent commentator on current events and national news on a variety of shows. She always radiates fresh ideas in a sharp, well-reasoned manner. She’d be the first woman of color as a permanent host, and possesses a sparky sense of humor. Think outside the box, NBC!

Joy Behar And you thought I’d suggest Elisabeth Hasselbeck, didn’t you? Naw. Behar would be kinda groundbreaking: a middle-aged woman with both a sense of humor and an inclination for seriousness. She could get a lot of fast pointers from her View mentor, Barbara Walters.

Candy Crowley The CNN host and reporter is quick, an incisive interviewer, and has as solid a rep as an objective TV journalist as anyone can have in this business. Plus, she’s got a sense of humor that doesn’t get much of a showcase in her straight-news reporting; the Today show might be a good fit.

Who do you think might make a good Vieira replacement, should it come to this?

Twitter: @kentucker

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