“Today is going to be my last morning as regular co-host of ‘Today,’ ” said Curry, tearing up as the “Today” A Team’s 7 to 9 a.m. show wound down with all the on-air gang seated on the couch.
Curry said it was not how “I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years” and told viewers: “I have loved you, and I have wanted to give you the world, and I still do.”
“For all of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I’m sorry I couldn’t carry the ball over the finish line, but, man, I did try!” Curry sobbed — the kind of hand-wringing you don’t usually see in these carefully orchestrated departure announcements.
“For all of you who did watch, thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she added.
Curry said she will, technically, remain part of the “Today” show family.
“They’re giving me some fancy new titles,” she said modestly, adding that NBC News will send her with a team “of my choosing” to “go all over the world and all over the country at a time when the country, and the world, needs clarity.”
Not long after her announcement, NBC News unveiled her new title: NBC News National and International Correspondent/Anchor and “Today” Anchor at Large.
The news division was quick to add, in its statement, that Curry’s expanded assignment includes a new long-term deal.
She was one year into a three-year, $10-mill-per deal with the division as the “Today” co-host.
Curry will report for all platforms of NBC News, will have “a major presence” across all digital properties, will anchor NBC News prime-time specials, and will get her own “newly created NBC News multi-person unit” that’s “dedicated to cultivating and producing each of Curry’s stories.”
Translation: NBC News has done right by their Nell.
“After all these years, I don’t even know if I can sleep in anymore. . . . But I know whatever time I wake up, I will be missing you and I will be believing in you,” Curry earnestly told co-host Lauer, weatherman/all-around go-to guy Al Roker and news reader Natalie Morales, who were seated with her on the couch.
Roker and Morales delivered canned comments about the show’s important Curry moments.
“You have the biggest heart in the business,” Lauer began after Curry had her say — the kind of lack of candor you usually see in these carefully orchestrated departure announcements.
“The way you care about people comes through in every single story you report,” he continued. “It’s not ‘goodbye’ by a long shot. We will continue to put you on planes, and you’ll be with us at the Olympics, and, most importantly, you’ve made us better, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
He then appeared to try to kiss her on the cheek, except that she winced/lurched and he wound up kissing the top of her head.
Yup, Lauer’s got his work cut out for him PR-wise, having been the subject of news media reports that he’d wanted Curry replaced.
Passed over as co-host in 2006 — when the job went instead to Meredith Vieira — Curry lacked the knack for girlish rapport with Lauer that Katie Couric had in excess and that Vieira had, too.
Instead, Curry’s strong suit was her compassionate reporting on the less fortunate, her willingness to jump off bridges and fly to the South Pole, and her uber-earnest interview style — that way she has of looking at someone as if they’d just been wounded by shrapnel.
It appears “Today” viewers missed the girlish banter.
Since Curry became co-host a year ago, “Today” has attracted fewer viewers than ABC’s “Good Morning America” on four separate weeks. Until then, “Today” had controlled the largest morning infotainment-show audience for 852 consecutive weeks — more than 16 years.
Overall, for this season, only 376,000 viewers separate “GMA” from front-runner “Today,” compared with a gap of nearly 800,000 last season — and a whopping 2.4 million during “Today’s” Couric era. Among the 25- to 54-year-old viewers who are the currency of news programming, “GMA” this season has cut in half its year-to-year ratings gap with “Today” and stands closer than it’s been in the past 16 years.
Hence, Thursday morning’s announcement.
Coming back from a break for commercials and local news, Savannah Guthrie, Curry’s presumed replacement (and co-host of the 10 a.m. hour of “Today”) was now sitting on the couch where Curry had been seated next to Matt, who’d stuck around. “Today” is expected to announce Friday that Guthrie is Curry’s replacement.
Curry’s super-awkward send-off stands in marked contrast to the orgy of excess with which “Today” said “so long” to Vieira a year ago. And Vieira had been with the show only five years — or, as Roker called it the day of her departure, “five of the greatest years of our lives.”
On Vieira’s last day, Carole King serenaded her with “You’ve Got a Friend.” That show also included a kiss from Abe Vigoda, a Jimmy Fallon guitar-lick-mime and even a flash mob performing to the Journey anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Last week, one day before results of another nail-biting ratings week were expected to be released, word got out that NBC News was negotiating Curry’s exit from the show she joined in 1997 as news anchor.
“GMA” has snagged a larger audience than “Today” for four weeks since Curry replaced Vieira.
But, of course, Vieira was actually leaving the show — and under her own steam — whereas, as Curry made clear on the air, she’s unhappy to be leaving the co-host chair (even if NBC News is still calling her its “anchor at large”).
Taking away the element of surprise — but sure to goose the show’s ratings, on Thursday anyway — Curry announced Wednesday in a USA Today interview that she would announce her departure Thursday on-air.
“I’m going to have to tell our viewers. That’s what makes me more emotional than anything. I don’t want to leave them. I love them. And I will really miss them,” Curry said in that phone interview, which was published online late Wednesday.
Since December, when The Reporters Who Cover Television spotted NBC News suits dining with Ryan Seacrest, there’d been rampant speculation as to the future on “Today” of Lauer — who’d floated word that he might opt to leave — and Curry, whose future on the show already looked bleak.
It only looked worse for Curry in April, when two things happened the week Lauer’s old “Today” partner Couric filled in at “GMA”:
1. Lauer announced that he’d signed a new contract and would remain anchor in chief of the morning infotainment show.
2. “Today” producers announced that they’d signed a big mystery “get” for that week, who turned out be Vieira, who returned to the show to announce that she would help with Summer Olympics coverage.
“We’re stuck with you for a long time,” Curry joshed to Lauer when he announced his re-up-ment — now ironic given Thursday’s announcement.
To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.