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Will Graham be the new Jonathan Ross?

Graham Norton is leading the names being tipped to take over Jonathan Ross's BBC shows, seen as some of the hottest presenting jobs around.

After 13 years with the station, Ross took everyone by surprise when he suddenly announced he would not be renewing his contract, which runs out in six months time.

Norton, an increasingly prominent face on the BBC, is clear favourite to take over Ross's Friday night chat show, with bookies describing him as the "obvious choice".

Many senior BBC executives will have received the news with relief, given that Ross -- with a fruity vocabulary and a contract that pays £18m (€20m) over three years -- had become an obvious target for those who see the organisation as profligate.

Not that Norton is a bargain-basement presenter either .

The Irishman, now back with the BBC, signed a £4m (€4.5m) two-year deal with the organisation just this week.

Ross, meanwhile, considered his position over the past fortnight.

He is thought to have tired of the attacks that his broadcasting style attracted, particularly from right-wing commentators.

He is also understood to have wanted new challenges in his career.Ross, in spite and because of the controversy he attracts, represents a great opportunity for the BBC's commercial rivals.

His decision comes at a time when BBC has been hard-pressed to match the weekend audiences of ITV1, where Simon Cowell shows such as The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent have revitalised the commercial channel.


ITV said last night that it had no intention of offering Ross an exclusive contract, but hinted that there could be other opportunities for him.

"If the right show came along and he was right for it then certainly we would look at it," said a spokesman.

Yet Ross (49) is not believed to have had an alternative offer on the table.

"Over the last two weeks I have decided not to renegotiate when my current contract comes to an end. I would like to make it perfectly clear that no negotiations ever took place and that my decision is not financially motivated," he said.

"I signed my current contract with the BBC having turned down more lucrative offers from other channels because it was where I wanted to be and -- as I have said before -- would happily have stayed there for any fee they cared to offer, but there were other considerations."

A possible move to ITV might be hampered by the fact that the broadcaster has commissioned Paul O'Grady to present a Friday night chat show.

Ironically, the show was designed to be an early evening competitor to Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, which has run for eight years.

This may provide an opening for Channel 4, the network on which Ross made his presenting debut as host of The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross in 1987.

Favourites in the race to Take over...

Chat Show: Graham Norton

Recently re-signed with the BBC, taking a £500,000 pay cut but still earning £4m over two years, Corkman Norton (left), like Ross, cut his chat show teeth at Channel 4.

Norton is currently hosting a comedy talk show on BBC Two.

He would therefore be the simplest and best value option for the BBC to give him Ross's slot on the flagship channel.

Film Show: Mark Kermode

Widely respected film critic and co-presenter of BBC Two's The Culture Show, he frequently appears on the BBC news channel and reviews movies for Radio 5 Live.

Radio Show: Mark Lamarr

A former host of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, he doesn't have the same high profile as Ross but is less prone to gaffes.