Ann Curry, who has been the top-rated morning show's news anchor since 1997, officially ascends to the top spot alongside Lauer on Thursday, the day after Meredith Vieira signs off.
Ann Curry won't be taking over the "Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?" feature from her new "Today" show co-host, even though there were many times over the past few years when that question could legitimately be asked about her.
Curry, who has been the top-rated morning show's news anchor since 1997, officially ascends to the top spot alongside Lauer on Thursday, the day after Meredith Vieira signs off.
How Curry responded when Vieira was brought in over Curry in 2006 to replace Katie Couric likely played a large part in her getting the job this time.
She didn't leave. She didn't sulk or back-stab. Curry, 54, instead created a niche for herself with international reporting, often on tough, unpleasant stories that aren't mainstays at American television networks. She's been to the troubled region of Darfur in Sudan to report on the humanitarian crisis five times since 2006.
"She channeled that disappointment and did so as the ultimate team player five years ago and in many ways re-created her career at NBC News," said Steve Capus, NBC News president. He added that "the way she carried herself earned her an awful lot of support inside this news division."
Curry radiates such intense enthusiasm you'd swear it was fake if you didn't see it repeatedly. She's not just excited about her new role on Thursday, she says that "every synapse is exploding in my mind." Viewers buy in; people in the television business say Curry scores very high on personal popularity in audience testing.
"Sure, I had the sense of 'I wish I had been asked,'" Curry recalled. "But shortly after that I said to myself, 'Look how lucky you are. Look at what a great job you have and look how great she is.' I opened my arms wide and never looked back."
Too many people come to their jobs with attitude, not gratitude, she said.
Curry even swears that if someone else had gotten Vieira's job — if she had been passed over for a second time — she would not have left "Today."
"Why?" she said. "Because it would have been nuts abandoning the broadcast. It would have been abandoning our viewers. I love our viewers. ... I have a real sense of service when it comes to this job, taking care of the viewer and helping them have information that I think they should know and want to know."
That attitude encouraged surprise and happiness when Capus called her to his office a month ago to tell her she had the job. Curry thought immediately of her father and how this good news purged her remaining sadness from his death three years ago.
Curry's interest in international reporting wasn't new. She persuaded Zucker to send her to Kosovo to cover genocide in the late 1990s when she was new to "Today." She covered tsunamis in Sri Lanka and Japan, the earthquake in Haiti and traveled with former first lady Laura Bush to Africa in 2005. Don't forget Iran, Chile and Antarctica. She's been to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times, and the news conference announcing her selection as Vieira's replacement was delayed a week because she went to Pakistan after Osama bin Laden was killed.
She clearly kicked it up several notches following Vieira's hiring.
This was more than a matter of buying an airline ticket. She had to persuade her NBC News bosses to let her cover these stories, and it often took loud lobbying. Her requests to go to Darfur were turned down several times before she got the go-ahead.
"She's really devoted herself to this and she was smart about identifying the opportunity," Capus said. "I think it's been a win-win for Ann and for NBC News."
Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist for The New York Times, accompanied Curry on trips to Sudan and Pakistan. He acknowledged the typical print reporter's scorn for people in television, expecting her to be accompanied by waves of producers and makeup people.
Curry instead proved herself as a tenacious reporter, showing the same skills to convince the network stories that interested her, such as mortality during childbirth, were important, he said.
"I was really impressed," Kristof said. "We stayed at a $2 a night hotel (on the Chad-Sudan border) where the toilet was a hole in the ground in which a bat lived. The bat seemed more concerned about this than Ann."
Even if they don't seem like big sellers on TV, where executives often think that viewers' eyes will glaze over on international stories, Curry said there are many stories that compel coverage.
"If you don't cover genocide, what are you doing as a reporter?" she asked. "If you don't cover crimes against humanity, what are you doing as a reporter, as a hard news reporter?"
No one expects the "Today" show to shift focus dramatically when Curry takes over, and she anticipates her travel time will decrease, but Curry said her sensibilities won't change.
"I'm sure there's going to be more cooking segments than there will be segments on global poverty," Kristof said. "If there can be some genocide, or AIDS or human trafficking served up with the pasta, that will make a difference in the world."