Couric Spills ‘Worst-Kept Secret’: She’s Moving to CBS

Apr 5, 2006  •  Post A Comment

With barely disguised emotion, Katie Couric told “Today” colleagues and viewers Wednesday that what she called “the worst-kept secret in America” is true: “I’m going to be working on ‘CBS Evening News’ and ’60 Minutes.'”

Her widely expected announcement came at the top of the second half-hour of the most powerful morning show, which she is leaving at the end of May in a big gamble for herself and for CBS that she can improve the fortunes of the longtime also-ran “Evening News.”

A statement from CBS was expected later in the morning.

At 7:30 a.m. (ET), the “Today” show started with “Sentimental Journey” playing quietly to mark Ms. Couric’s 15th anniversary on the program. The moment she was officially introduced as Bryant Gumbel’s co-host, “Katherine Couric,” was cued up.

“I still can’t decide if I’m Katherine or Katie,” the then-brunette Ms. Couric said then to Mr. Gumbel.

Fifteen years — and, she said Wednesday, “like 172 hairstyles” — later, Ms. Couric ranks as the longest-running co-host in “Today’s” 54-year history, the last 10 years of which have been an uninterrupted ratings winning streak.

The 49-year-old Ms. Couric said Wednesday that she had arrived at her decision to say yes to CBS, which had courted her quite publicly over the past year, after “listening to my heart and my gut, both of which have served me well in the past.”

Al Roker, “Today’s” weatherman and resident jokester, said, “Hell just froze over” when the “Today” ensemble gathered on the couch after Ms. Couric’s statement, and news reader Ann Curry said, “Our hearts are heavy because you’ve left a lasting imprint on this program and us.”

Ms. Couric’s co-host of 10 years, Matt Lauer, spoke of the “mixed emotions” provoked by her decision to leave and promised that “We’re going to live through a lot a lot of great memories” during Ms. Couric’s last few weeks on the show.

The leading candidate to replace her is said to be Meredith Vieira, co-host of “The View” on ABC and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” but there was no talk about that on “Today.”

“Katie Couric has had an immensely positive impact both on this company and on the public at large,” said Bob Wright, the vice chairman and executive officer of NBC parent company GE and chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, in a statement. It was Mr. Wright who had signed off on an unprecedented $65 million contract that paid Ms. Couric more than $15 million a year. “Her extraordinary work as a journalist and an advocate for critical health issues has made a difference in the lives of millions of viewers. I’ve been fortunate to call Katie a friend and a colleague, and I can’t thank her enough for what she has brought to NBC.”

NBC Universal Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker, who was Ms. Couric’s producer and then executive producer on “Today,” said in a statement: “When Katie and I first teamed up on the ‘Today’ show 15 years ago this week, I never would have dreamed that we would be lucky enough to have her on the program as long as we have, and that she would become the longest serving co-anchor of the program in its history. But there comes a time for everyone, when new challenges become hard to resist, and I fully understand that. I couldn’t be happier for Katie. On behalf of everyone at NBC Universal, I want to thank her for what she’s given not only to ‘Today’ but also to this entire network, in her 19 years here. Moreover, she has made an impact that reaches well beyond television, touching the lives of countless individuals in her tireless crusade against colon cancer. She is one of a kind, and she will be missed.”

In his official statement, Mr. Lauer said, “Clearly there are a lot of mixed emotions about this announcement on my part. On the one hand, I’m thrilled for Katie, who is one of the most talented people in the business, and I know this was a challenge she felt she couldn’t pass up. On the other hand, it means the end of a long and wonderful partnership. Over the last 10 years we’ve shared incredible high and lows, and have been at each other’s side for all of the major events in the world and in our personal lives. Most of all, though, she has made me laugh and enjoy coming to work day in and day out, and that’s what we’ll all miss the most.”

“This is an institution that will continue to grow and thrive,” said Ms. Couric, who was not expected to be give interviews after this morning’s program. “The ‘Today’ show has always been bigger than any one person.”

Less than an hour later, Tom Brokaw, who co-hosted “Today” before serving as anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” appeared to introduce a segment about Art Buchwald, the syndicated columnist who is dying with great style and wit and an unflagging zest for life.

To viewers who had shared in such personal passages as childbirth and the loss of her husband, Jay Monahan, and her subsequent commitment to fight colorectal cancer — for which she had an on-camera rectal examination — Ms. Couric said: “You’ve been with me during a lot of good times. And some very difficult ones as well. And hopefully, I’ve been there for you. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the support you all have given me. And I so appreciate that you’ve included me in your morning routine.

“But sometimes I think change is a good thing. Although it may be terrifying to get out of your comfort zone, it’s also exciting to start a new chapter in your life,” Ms. Couric said.

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