Ann Curry bids tearful farewell to NBC 'Today' audience

This was the sound of a dream job snatched away.

Voice cracking with emotion, anchor Ann Curry told viewers Thursday morning she would no longer be appearing as a regular co-anchor on NBC's Today show.

"This is not easy to say but today is going to be my last morning as a regular co-host of Today," said Curry, 55, who often welled up with tears.

"This is not as I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years," she added.

That's the understatement of the year. For months, critics have carped about Curry's performance, saying she over-emotes during interviews, has trouble handling live television and hasn't seemed to connect with her co-anchors. Speculation reached a fever pitch last week, when the New York Times reported NBC was negotiating her exit.

Next came a blizzard of reports on Curry's future, while her co-anchors and the network remained conspicuously silent. Even late as Wednesday, Today show executive producer Jim Bell dodged a question on Curry's future during a conference call with reporters on NBC's coverage of the Olympics, as some in the industry wondered why a well-liked anchor such as Curry was left to twist in the media wind.

She'll move into a new job — Today show anchor-at-large and NBC News national/international correspondent — in a move widely seen as an attempt to shake up the show amid an alarming ratings slide for the network's most profitable program.

Curry replaced co-anchor Meredith Vieira last year after 14 years as the show's newsreader and No. 2 female anchor. When she took over, the show was beating rival Good Morning America by more than 750,000 viewers. In April, ABC's morning show snapped the Today show's 16-year winning streak in ratings and has remained a contender since.

And fairly or not, Curry took much of the blame.

None of that was mentioned Thursday, as Curry announced she would assemble a team to develop special reporting projects for NBC News. She took special time to thank viewers in her speech, noting "You are the real Today show family. You are why I have ventured into dangerous places and interviewed dictators ... I have loved you and I have wanted to give you the world."

In an interview with USA Today published Thursday, Curry spoke for the first time publicly about the controversy, denying reports she would be paid $10 million annually to leave or that she lacked chemistry with co-anchor Matt Lauer.

It made for an odd scene; as Curry bid her tearful goodbye the woman rumored to have been offered her job, the show's third hour co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, newsreader Natalie Morales sat next to Lauer.

Curry is the first woman forced off Today since Jane Pauley left in 1989, only to find viewers rejected successor Deborah Norville, blaming the network for forcing her out. GMA emerged on top and by mid-1991 Norville was out, replaced by rising star Katie Couric.

On Thursday, as Lauer, Morales and Al Roker recalled notable stories she'd covered in the past, Curry only alluded to the media turmoil about her tenure, as one of the highest-profile anchors of color in network television now forced from her dream job.

"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," said Curry, who is of Japanese and European descent . "I will keep trying."

Ann Curry bids tearful farewell to NBC 'Today' audience 06/28/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 29, 2012 12:18am]

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