Today show press conference on June 8 Vieira/Curry swap more rumor control than revelation
News that Ann Curry would be replacing Meredith Vieira as co-host of NBC's Today show had been public for so long, the network even buried the biggest nugget yet unreported in its Monday press conference -- letting Vieira herself say her last day would be June 8, well into the event.
Instead, Curry, Vieira, co-host Matt Lauer, weather guy Al Roker and the other Today show anchors swung wildly between emotional compliments and good natured rumor control, clarifying the cloud of speculation surrounding the transition while offering some answers sure to spark new discussion.
No, Lauer doesn't expect to leave Today anytime soon, despite rumors he might leave the show after his contract expires in 2012. He did, however, talk with former co-host Katie Couric about joining her in a new talk show venture, though the notion never progressed beyond talk.
"I have never enjoyed working with anyone more than Meredith," said Lauer, leading some (like me) to carp on Twitter "what about Couric?" "We make each other smile...she know exactly where my buttons are, she pushes them every time...To have Ann ready to leapfrog over....it's exactly the way this is supposed to work. It feels natural."
Later, he said about speculation he might leave soon: "I have a long term deal with NBC, I love this job, I love this place, it's not even worth taking about now. I'm going to be here for a while....You're going to get tired of asking that question."
Vieira said she started thinking about leaving Today in January, saying she "drove people crazy" going back and forth on decision. "I had to go with my gut, and I know that it's the right thing."
And even though some speculated Vieira's decision must be prompted by problems with her husband, Richard Cohen, who has multiple sclerosis and has struggled with cancer, the anchor insisted her decision was prompted more by wanting to spend time with him while he was healthy, rather than any problems.
"I want to set the record straight on that...I want to be there with him and I want to have fun and I want to appreciate our time together and not have to punch a clock," she said. "It diminished him, those articles (about possible health problems) and diminished me."
As the heir apparent, Curry was gracious and gave no hint of the irritation she seemed to struggle with five years ago, when Vieira was brought in from outside NBC. Curry has a reputation for being well-liked among the staff, with a reputation for earnest hard work which helped as she dove into the extra hard news assignments the network provided her in the wake of Vieira's arrival.
At a network known for its deep anchor bench -- so deep that occasional Today fill-in and CNBC anchor Erin Burnett jumped ship to CNN before the current anchor shuffle was public -- Curry had clearly arrived as the next in line, despite some sniping among critics for her disjointed live interview style.
There was even a question about Paula Abdul joining X Factor and whether Vieira will enjoy sleeping late (her answer: "yes.") NBC was also kind enough to ask two questions I had emailed in -- reporters calling in could only listen to the press conference -- though it only left me jonesing to ask follow up questions.