Meredith Vieira Sets Record Straight on 'Today' Exit
Meredith Vieira is leaving NBC's Today in less than a month. But Matt Lauer stressed that he’s in it for the long haul.
“I’ve read the speculation. I’ve heard the stories,” Lauer told reporters at a press conference Monday. “I have a long-term deal with NBC News. I’m going to be here for a while. You’re going to get sick of me.”
Lauer has been co-hosting the show since January 1997. When Ann Curry assumes her new role June 9, she will be his third co-host. For Lauer, that’s a long time to be getting up at 3 a.m. Nevertheless, his deal with NBC News is not up until December 2012, and NBC News president Steve Capus said that he will work to “keep him in the family” when the time comes.
“Matt was made for Today,” said Capus, noting that the program showcases his talent and range as an interviewer of everyone from presidents to pop stars. “I think he’s going to think long and hard before he walks away from something like that.”
But Lauer admitted to having conversations with Katie Couric, his former Today colleague, about co-hosting a daytime talker.
“We certainly spoke about the possibility, but we’ve talked about a lot of possibilities over the years. It turned into just talk. And that’s where we left it. It’s not going to happen,” said Lauer, adding that Couric’s timetable is “a little more accelerated than mine.”
The announcement of Vieira’s departure was to come May 2 but was delayed due to the late-breaking news about the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Curry — a familiar face to Today viewers and a 20-plus year veteran of NBC News — just returned Sunday afternoon from her latest trip to Pakistan, where she reported from Abbottabad, site of bin Laden’s compound. But Curry, who has built her reputation reporting from the world’s war-torn regions (she’s also been to the Sudan five times), will have to necessarily curtail her travel.
“I’m jumping into this job 100 percent with both feet,” she said.
Curry’s ascension means Today gets its transition out of the way during what has become a period of profound upheaval in television news overall. Capus praised the network’s history of seamless transitions and its “deep bench” of talent. With Curry on the couch next to Lauer, Natalie Morales — who joined Today more than five years ago — taking over as newsreader and frequent Today contributor and White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie co-hosting the 9 a.m. hour with Morales and Al Roker, the show does not have to break in a single new personality.
“I’m thrilled for the show because we didn’t have to go too far — just 10 feet over to the news desk,” said Today executive producer Jim Bell.
Capus praised Curry’s dedication to important stories and talent as a “storyteller.” But he admitted that he tried to talk Vieira into staying. “We didn’t want this day to happen,” he said. “We wanted Meredith to go on forever and ever.”
Vieira will assume a quasi emeritus status at NBC News, continuing to have an occasional presence on Today and possibly other programs, though in exactly what capacity is still under discussion. (Guthrie will exit MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, the 9 a.m. political show she co-hosts with Chuck Todd, NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director; a decision about a new co-host for Todd has yet to be made.)
Vieira said she has been mulling a decision to leave Today as far back as January, when former NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker — who recruited Vieira to NBC News from ABC’s The View — was on his way out. She said “personal issues” spurred her decision to leave before her contract expires in September.
“I knew I had doubts in my mind about how much longer I would be staying at Today,” she said, adding that, with her youngest daughter Lily graduating from high school June 9 and her son Ben graduating from college June 12, the time felt right.
“In the end, I had to go with my gut,” she said. But Vieira said she also wanted to “set the record straight” about the assumption that she was leaving because her husband Richard Cohen, who has battled multiple sclerosis, is in declining health.
“There’s so much speculation in the press; ‘poor Meredith with her invalid husband,’ ” she said. “And I want to set the record straight: My husband Richard is in good health, and that’s part of the reason I want to leave right now. 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. It diminished him, those articles, and it diminished me.”