Ann Curry choked back tears Thursday morning as she announced to viewers that this would be her last time co-hosting NBC's venerable-if-ratings-challenged Today show. (Watch the video below.) As co-host Matt Lauer comfortingly rubbed her back, Curry, who is essentially being forced out by NBC, broke: "This is not easy to say. Today is going to be my last morning as a regular co-host of Today. I will still be a part of the Today show family, but I'm going to have a new title and a new role." She first confirmed her exit in an interview Wednesday with USA Today, in which she flatly admitted that she wasn't ready to leave the show. Here a guide to her tearful goodbye, and what's next for Curry:
What else did Curry say?
"This is not... as I expected to leave this couch after 15 years, but I'm so grateful," Curry said, addressing the camera directly. Lauer kept his hand on Curry's back throughout most of her five-minute speech, which came at the end of the 8 a.m. hour. Al Roker and newsreader Natalie Morales were also on the couch. Curry made it clear that she was disappointed: "For all 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."
What did her co-hosts say?
After Curry apologized for being a "sob sister," Lauer comforted her: "You have the biggest heart in the business," he said. "You put it on display every single day." Roker fondly remembered when Curry reunited a family after the deadly 2011 Japanese tsunami through the strategic use of Twitter and some intrepid footwork. Morales, visibly moved, clasped Curry's hands while praising her efforts on behalf of returning military war veterans. "Most importantly, you made us better," concluded Lauer.
Was she more revealing in her USA Today interview?
Yes. Curry directly addressed the media speculation and rumor mongering from the past week: "I don't know who has been behind the leaks, but no question, they've hurt deeply." She also scoffed at the notion that her lack of chemistry with Lauer was to blame for her firing. "Matt and I have had great on-air chemistry for 14 years… That said, I just finished my freshman year as co-host. In every single co-host's first year, there have been kinks to be worked out." Does she think she was given a fair shot to resolve her issues? "No, I do not." As for the idea that NBC is scapegoating her for Today's ratings decline: "I know I am not to blame for the ratings worries," she says.
What will she do now?
NBC is "giving me some fancy new titles," Curry said Thursday morning, "which essentially means that I'm going to get tickets to every big story we want to cover with a terrific team of my choosing." Officially, she'll be Today show anchor-at-large and a national and international NBC News correspondent, a position that will see her lead a seven-person team to produce segments for Nightly News, Dateline, Rock Center, and even Today. "We're going to go all over the world and country at a time when this country and world need clarity," she says.
What's next for Today?
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Savannah Guthrie, who currently co-hosts Today's 9 a.m. hour, will be Curry's replacement, though NBC has yet to confirm this. Earlier this year, ABC's Good Morning America eclipsed Today in the ratings for the first time in 16 years, and has since led three other weeks, too. Today will likely be pulling out all the stops to regain a firm hold on its first-place status.
How are critics reacting?
"Meredith Viera got a two-hour farewell," tweets The Huffington Post's Media blog. "Ann Curry was given 5 minutes after 15 years on the show." Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal remarked on the extra attention Curry's exit brought Today: "Lots of media folks watching Today show for the first time ever right now." Others were more flippant. The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff likened Curry's departure to the recent finale of Mad Men: "Ann Curry exits the Today show and enters a bar where Don Draper is waiting. "Are you alone?" she asks. [cut to black]."