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Vieria leaving, Lauer staying at `Today' show

The Associated Press, Monday, May 9, 2011, 11:26am (PDT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- NBC's "Today" show faces a transition with Ann Curry replacing Meredith Vieira as the show's main co-host, but just as important is the transition that the morning television program won't have to make.

Matt Lauer said Monday that although he talked to Katie Couric about the idea of teaming for a syndicated talk show, "it's not going to happen." With his NBC bosses looking on, Lauer said that "I'm going to be here for a long time."

Lauer has been with the show since 1994 and is the linchpin of its remarkable run: More than 15 years without losing a single week in the morning ratings to either ABC's "Good Morning America" and CBS' "The Early Show."

Comparatively speaking, Vieira was the newbie among the show's core four that also includes Lauer, Curry and Al Roker. She replaced Katie Couric five years ago. At 57, with daughter, Lily, graduating from high school next month and son Ben graduating from Stanford University, Vieira said it was time to go. She and husband, author Richard M. Cohen, have another son, Gabe.

She said she'd been wrestling with the decision since January. Her contract was to end in September, but she said the graduations and a planned family vacation made her decide that June was a better time to leave. Her last broadcast will be June 8.

"It was really at the last minute I realized I had to go with my gut, ultimately, and I know that it's the right thing," she said. "That doesn't make it any easier."

She said her husband is in good health and that it "diminished" him that he's been portrayed as an invalid. Cohen wrote a best-selling book about dealing with multiple sclerosis and colon cancer.

His good health "is part of the reason I want to leave right now," she said. "I appreciate what that means right now in a very deep way. 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 so much."

During an on-air announcement and later news conference she joked easily with Lauer, who said, "I can say unequivocally I have never enjoyed working with anybody more than Meredith."

Curry, 54, has been the show's top news anchor since 1997. When NBC executives went outside the company to choose Vieira as Couric's replacement, Curry stuck with the show and recast herself as a globe-trotting reporter with a specialty in human rights issues.

She's since been to Darfur, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times, along with the Congo, Liberia and Haiti. NBC's announcement of her ascension was originally planned for last week but was delayed by the killing of Osama bin Laden, a story Curry went to Pakistan to report.

"We like to do transitions from a position of strength and we think that was on display this morning," NBC News President Steve Capus said.

Natalie Morales will replace Curry in the newsreader's role while retaining her spot as co-anchor with Roker in the third of the sprawling morning show's four hours. Savannah Guthrie was appointed as a third host for the third hour (9 a.m. ET), creating an opening at the same hour at MSNBC, where she currently co-hosts a political show with Chuck Todd.

It's been a period of tumult on the network morning shows. CBS announced Monday that David Friedman, executive producer of "The Early Show," would be leaving after less than two years on the job. The show had already completely revamped its on-air talent over the winter.

On the second-place "Good Morning America" on ABC, new lifestyle anchor Lara Spencer started about the same time Vieira was making her announcement on Monday. The show's new newsreader, Josh Elliott, began last week. The show also changed executive producers in February, and ABC News as a division also has a new leader.

No morning show change would be bigger than a departure by Lauer, whose contract ends at the end of next year.

He acknowledged some partnership conversations with Couric, with whom he co-hosted "Today" between 1997 and 2006. But, Lauer said, "it turned out to be just talk."

"I love this job," he said. "I love this place. I'm going to be here for a while."

That left Capus with a smile. He said he's already begun talking with Lauer about the future. Capus and Vieira also both said they'd like her to continue with occasional appearances on "Today."

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NBC is owned by NBC Universal.

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Online:

http://on.today.com/jzYzIe

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