Life After 'Today': Ann Curry and the Fate of Ousted Anchors

Ann Curry Jane Pauley Deborah Norville - H 2012
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Ann Curry Jane Pauley Deborah Norville - H 2012

If Thursday's announcement offered visible evidence of any backstage drama, then Ann Curry's sudden ouster from the Today show was a doozy and a half: given just a few minutes to say goodbye, the embattled co-anchor appeared destroyed and defeated, tears welling up in her eyes.

Astonishingly, Curry conceded defeat after one year of co-anchoring alongside Matt Lauer.

"This is not easy to say but today is going to be my last morning as a regular role of Today," said Curry, addressing viewers at 8:50 a.m. while Lauer sat beside her with a calm expression, as if to downplay the awkwardness of the situation.

"This is not how I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years. But I am so grateful especially to all of you who watch, we often call ourselves a family, but you are the real Today show family," she continued with brutal honesty, adding: "I'm sorry I couldn't carry the ball over the finish line."

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After having the most coveted gig on the No. 1 morning show in the country, losing that position must be painful -- and Curry admitted as much in an interview with USA Today this week in which she confessed that she was "hurt deeply" by tabloid leaks of her impending exit. (Sample leak: a June 21 report in TMZ that Curry's predecessor, Meredith Vieira, was asked to return to co-anchors' desk but declined the job; Vieira left her post in June 2011 after nearly five years with an extended farewell from cast and crew.)

Curry, who's been at Today 15 years and is expected to be replaced at the co-anchor's desk by Savannah Guthrie, will remain with NBC News as a national and international correspondent as well as Today's anchor-at-large (presumably, with a multi-million-dollar consolation prize attached).

But Curry is not the first high-profile female anchor to leave Today under less-than-stellar circumstances. See also: the departures of Jane Pauley, co-host from 1979 to 1989, and Deborah Norville, who replaced Pauley in 1990 and did not return after going on maternity leave in 1991.

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Pauley resigned to host a primetime show on NBC called Real Life With Jane Pauley, which ran from 1990-1991, amid speculation that she'd been forced on to make way for the younger Norville, a Today newsreader; after executives promoted Norville to the post, she debuted as a co-host with Bryant Gumbel to hostility from the media and viewers who apparently disliked her.

"Within weeks of my joining the show opposite Gumbel and Jane Pauley, the press sniping started," Norville recalled in her THR essay, "Why Women Lose the Morning TV Wars.

"They said I was younger and blonder than Pauley and scheming to steal her job. No one criticized my performance. Heck, I won an Emmy during all the craziness. But the press chorus grew louder and more negative. I begged the communications experts at the network to let me grant the many interview requests coming in. They forbade me to speak to anyone, saying, 'Trust us, we're experts at this sort of thing.' I followed their orders and kept quiet. So did everyone else. No one said a word on my behalf. The result was a huge erosion of ratings and eventually the end of my days at NBC, just a year and a half after I got the job."

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Ratings began to rise when Katie Couric, beloved by Lauer and Today's audience during her tenure, filled in for Norville, and was later given a permanent spot. She left on her own accord in 2006 to anchor CBS Evening News; she's since left that job and jumped to ABC, where's she is preparing to launch a syndicated daytime talk show, Katie.

Norville is the long-time anchor of Inside Edition and author of The New York Times best-seller Thank You Power; Pauley co-hosted NBC's Dateline from 1992 to 2003, and hosted a short-lived daytime talk show that lasted one season in 2004.

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson