There was, said Bryant Gumbel, some "family business" to be taken care of. And so two segments of the "Today" show yesterday were devoted to Jane Pauley's emotional farewell to the program after 13 years as its co-host, ending two months of speculation about her future. During that time, NBC News officials refused to comment about ongoing negotiations with Pauley, fueling rumors that she was being forced out to make room for Deborah Norville, currently news anchor on the show and, it was confirmed yesterday, Pauley's successor as co-host as of early next year. Norville and Pauley hugged each other on the air during the tearful farewells yesterday. All three morning stars were holding hands at the fade-out. Pauley went out of her way to absolve Norville and Gumbel of any complicity in her departure. "It has hurt to see two of my friends, Bryant and Deborah, assigned roles in this that they did not play," Pauley said. Clearing her throat at the beginning of her statement, she told Gumbel, "I'll have to say that what I am going to miss most is the pleasure I have taken in working with you." It was a little like Dorothy's farewell to her companions before the balloon takes off in "The Wizard of Oz." Pauley, Gumbel and Norville all sat misty-eyed at the desk together, suggesting participants at some momentous media summit. "I had a tear near my eye and a big lump in my throat," Pauley said later from her New York office. "When I turned and saw that Deborah was on the verge of crying, it inspired some maternal feeling in me and I managed to pull myself together." Pauley said it has still not been decided exactly when her last regular "Today" show will be. She has a scheduled vacation the first week of January and may return to the show after that, she said. Otherwise, she will bow out at the end of December. Her future plans at NBC, as previously reported, include co-anchoring a new prime-time news magazine. Pauley said yesterday it will premiere next summer. No co-host or producer has been named. "Right now, it's just me and two empty chairs," said Pauley. Reminded of NBC's record on prime-time magazine shows -- mainly one of failures -- and asked if she thought this a wise career move, Pauley said, "Yeah, I'm sure I want to do it. I'm as enthusiastic as my predecessors must have been. Sooner or later, we've got to figure out a way. I'm game for trying." Dick Ebersol, the NBC News executive vice president in charge of the "Today" show, said the prime-time option for Pauley emerged when, early this month, NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff and NBC President Robert C. Wright finally agreed to give a prime-time news hour a guaranteed 52-week commitment on the air. This is the program that will feature Pauley next summer. "The whole thing actually has a happy ending," Ebersol said. Ebersol was breaking a long silence that had endured throughout seven weeks of negotiations. During that time, the press variously painted him, Gumbel and Norville as the villains of the piece, conspiring against the popular Pauley. Like Pauley, Ebersol emphasized yesterday that there is no animosity among the principal players in the "Today" saga. "The people involved here actually like each other," he said. He blamed some of the furor over the change on sexism, maintaining that if Norville and Pauley were men in the same situation, there wouldn't have been as much hostile conjecture. "Deborah may be cursed with good looks, but that isn't why all the moves were made," Ebersol said. Then why were they? Ebersol said that for the past year, even though it has retained the No. 1 position, "the trends were downward" for the "Today" show in terms of ratings and audience demographics. His plan to add Norville to the cast and beef up the newscaster's role was to make the show stronger, he said. "I wanted an expanded news presence on the show, and Deborah has a prodigious talent," Ebersol said. "She would help make the news a much more lively, expanded thing. "Second, this show has been on a rocky road for the last year. I wanted to make sure it was more appealing to women. Women watch women. Getting more women to watch the 'Today' show became very important to me." The original intent was for Norville to supplement Pauley, not replace her. "I sure as hell didn't want Jane to leave the show," Ebersol said. Apparently Pauley didn't want to leave, either, when she entered into negotiations. But newspaper articles that set up a rivalry between her and the younger Norville increased her anxiety about her future. "There've been a couple of perverse things" in press coverage of the "Today" ordeal, Pauley said yesterday. "There's something in the American character that likes things in black-and-white terms -- winners and losers, heroes and villains. I was cast as the loser and Deborah as the winner in the early 'Woman of the '90s' stuff, and then suddenly, I was wearing the white hat and Deborah was the bad guy." Was there sexism in this approach to the story? "I know there has been some of that," Pauley said. Ebersol's decision to make the announcement on the air during the show was made about 10 days ago, Pauley said. The plan was to do it a week ago, but the Bay Area earthquake story disrupted that. Pauley's statement yesterday was written in advance, but Gumbel and Norville were largely ad libbing, Ebersol said. On the air Gumbel told viewers, "Too many of our dawns have been clouded with idle, often erroneous speculation much to the detriment of all of us here." But most of what was announced yesterday about Pauley leaving the show and Norville replacing her confirmed previous newspaper reports. Referring to Pauley as "my buddy here," Gumbel said, "It goes without saying that I'm going to miss her." But he also told viewers, "I personally am looking forward to sharing many of my first cups of coffee with Deb, and I hope you are too." At the end of Pauley's statement, she presented Norville with her alarm clock. "Thanks. Oh, brother!" said Norville, her voice quivering. "Sister," Pauley corrected her, and they hugged. Norville said she was "awe-struck" at "the prospect of becoming co-host of 'Today,' " and added, "It's a wonderful opportunity. It really is a dream job. But, Jane, doing it after you is a nightmare. You are a tough act to repeat, and I'm not even going to try." Pauley, said Norville, has "set a new height for the tradition of being a friend to people in the morning. And if I can be half the friend that you've been to me as a viewer and to all the folks out there, I'll be happy. We'll miss you." The ritual was so dramatic and had such finality that some viewers probably assumed it was Pauley's last day on the job. She said NBC got phone calls yesterday asking, "Well, isn't she ever going to leave?" And the answer, said Pauley, is "No. I will be back and back and back. I'll be around for a long, long time." She will continue to be a substitute co-host when Gumbel or Norville is on vacation, Pauley said. At the end of the segment, Pauley took Norville's hand tightly in hers. And Gumbel held Pauley's other hand as the three exchanged warm smiles. Cameras zoomed in on the held hands. It had the trappings of a historic moment. This was "Today" on NBC.