Ann Curry will leave her post as Today co-host. She made the announcement herself on Thursday morning’s program.
“This is not easy to say, but today is going to be my last morning in a regular role on Today," Curry said through tears.
"This is not how I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years," she admitted. "But I am so grateful, especially to all of you who watch. We often call ourselves a family, but you are the real Today show family. You are why I’ve ventured into dangerous places and interviewed dictators and jumped out of planes and climbed mountains. ... I have loved you and I have wanted to give you the world, and I still do."
Matt Lauer, who in April renewed his deal to stay with Today (for a reported $25 million a year), was sitting next to her.
“You have the biggest heart in the business," he said. "You put it on display every single day in this studio. The way you care about people comes through in every single story you report."
Curry will stay at NBC News with the title of national/international correspondent and Today anchor-at-large. She'll have a seven-person unit and will produce primetime specials and pieces for NBC broadcasts including Dateline and Today. She'll also fill in as substitute anchor on various programs including Nightly News.
Curry's announcement came at 8:50 a.m. and encompassed the remainder of the 9 a.m. hour of the show. Wearing a bright red dress, her last stint in the high-profile job that has been occupied by Jane Pauley, Katie Couric and Meredith Vieira included stories about a new weight-loss drug and an interview with Magic Mike star and newlywed Matthew McConaughey.
The move caps a week of heated speculation about Curry’s future on the 60-year-old morning TV staple – during which Curry dutifully showed up for work in front of millions of viewers even as the blogosphere was abuzz about her early and impending departure. In an interview with USA Today on Wednesday, Curry admitted that the leaks about her future on the show "hurt deeply."
And her announcement was notable for its raw emotion; it was an exceptional scene on morning TV where the interview subjects, not the anchors, are usually fighting back the tears. As her mascara began to smear slightly, Curry added that she'll get "some fancy new title, which essentially means that I’m going to get tickets to every big story that I want to cover."
"We’re going to go all over the world and all over this country at at time with this country and this world needs clarity," she said. "These stories are going to air on the all the platforms of NBC News including here on Today."
Savannah Guthrie -- who appeared in the first half-hour of the show to discuss the Supreme Court's decision on President Obama's Health Care Reform Act -- will replace Curry, say sources. But Curry's announcement did not include anointment of a successor. That announcement is expected in the coming weeks, well before the July 27 Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, which NBC will broadcast.
Guthrie anchors the 9 a.m. hour with Natalie Morales and Al Roker and frequently filled in for Curry on Today. The former White House correspondent and current chief legal analyst also has substituted for David Gregory on Meet the Press and Brian Williams on Nightly News.
NBC News executives have been motivated to get the new Today team in place in order to take advantage of the ratings bump that comes every two years with NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. Vieira, who vacated her Today seat in May 2011, will co-host the Opening Ceremony with Lauer and Bob Costas. And she’ll be on hand for the rest of the event, which was a favorite of Vieira’s during her time as Today co-host. Curry also will make the trip to London for the games.
In making the change, NBC is hoping to fend off the competition and keep Today atop the morning news heap. Sources say that discussions about Curry’s role on the show began in earnest after ABC’s Good Morning America snapped the show’s 16-year winning streak in April. GMA has grown its audience in recent quarters winning four weeks in April and May and coming within 35,000 viewers for the week ending June 15. But Today maintains an 894-week win streak among viewers 25-54, the demographic upon which most news programming is sold.
Curry carved out a place at NBC News as an empathic, globe-trotting correspondent dedicated to stories that were not exactly ratings bait, especially coverage of humanitarian crises. And her new post at NBC News will give her latitude to cover such stories.
“Ann is a big-hearted, compassionate reporter with a tremendous amount of empathy for people,” NBC News president Steve Capus told The Hollywood Reporter last week. “[She has] a huge desire to report on stories that matter and people in this country and all around the globe who are perhaps not covered as much as they should be by our business.”
In an e-mail to NBC News staffers outlining Curry's new role, Capus noted: "This is not a farewell from Today. Ann's reporting will be showcased on Today, as well as other NBC News broadcasts. Outside of the confines of the studio, she'll have more freedom for those pursuits."
Curry has said that co-hosting Today was her “dream job” -- one for which she was passed over for in 2006 when Couric left and Vieira stepped in. And a clause in Curry’s subsequent contract stipulated that when Vieira left, Curry would get the top job or she could leave NBC. At the time, Curry admitted to being slightly ambivalent about giving up some of her international travel to be more couchbound. Curry has made multiple reporting trips to Darfur, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan and slept in an abandoned baggage container at the airport in Haiti during the aftermath of the devastating earthquake there in January 2010.
“We want people who have watched our broadcast to feel that they’ve made the right choice,” Curry told THR during an interview in March. “People need comforting, and they need information at one of the most challenging times in our history. To be a journalist and to be doing this broadcast now is a responsibility that none of us takes lightly.”
Curry and Lauer have worked together for more than 15 years. And she maintains a close friendship with Roker and his wife, ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts. Curry was a bridesmaid at Roker and Roberts’ 1995 wedding.
“This job that requires us to get up so early, where it’s sort of painful, doesn’t allow us to work with people we are easily annoyed by,” Curry said. “You just can’t bring those people into the mix. And I think NBC has been smart about how to create a mix that works. There isn’t a lot about any of these people that I work with -- Matt or Al or Natalie -- that annoys me greatly. Really, it’s pretty minimal. Even before coffee, and I do see them before coffee, I generally enjoy their company and want to be around them.”
But from the beginning, media observers and some inside NBC News questioned Curry’s fit as a morning show host where an ability to pivot between hard news and soft features and appear equally natural at both is paramount. But others at the news organization pointed to her high Q scores, personal likability and active social media presence (she has close to 1.2 million Twitter followers) in ameliorating initial concerns about her lack of chemistry with Lauer. And she seemed to brush off criticism as an inevitable hazard of a high-profile job in the age of social media.
“People talk about what I wear, the tone of my voice,” she said. “When I’m talking to someone about losing their child, I have a natural tendency to lower my voice. It’s not even intentional. I just don’t want to make them feel that their backs are against the wall. They’re already on national television. They’re already talking about the most painful thing in their lives. And so I’ve been blasted for whispering on television and all of this. But you know, it’s just part of it."
Curry continues to have an active fan base. An Iraq War veteran launched an online petition to save her job.
“Frankly when you’re on live television there are going to be things you do that are dumb," she continued. "One time I said good morning three times. I had just come back from some war zone and I was exhausted. And so I said, ‘Good morning, good morning, good morning.’ But I’m good with that. To be on television is a scary thing. I never wanted to be on TV in the first place. I wanted to be a reporter. So to be willing to take that leap, you’ve got to have a motivation. And if I were to say what that is, it’s that we want to feel that there has been some meaning in our lives. This work gives us an opportunity to give our lives meaning by helping others.”
In saying goodbye to Today viewers on Thursday, Curry seemed to acknowledge the show's recent ratings challenges.
"After all of these years I don’t even know if I can sleep in any more," she said. "But I know whatever time I wake up; I’ll be missing you. I love all of you. And for all of you who saw me as a ground breaker, I’m sorry I couldn’t carry the ball over the finish line. But man, I did try. And so to all of you who watch, thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie