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Ann Curry: Her Surprising Exit

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For more than a week, news reports had speculated that Ann Curry’s days as co-anchor of the Today show were numbered. However, the veteran journalist continued to appear daily on the NBC morning show’s iconic beige couch, flashing a smile and wearing what she described to USA Today as “crazy-colored highlighter-toned dresses … you could probably see from outer space,” as though nothing was wrong. That was, until 8:50 a.m. on June 28. Surrounded by colleagues Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Natalie Morales, Curry tearfully confirmed that the rumors were true. “This is not easy to say, but today is going to be my last morning as a regular cohost of Today,” she said. “This is not how I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years.”

And so, just one year after Curry, 55, filled the co-anchor seat vacated by Meredith Vieira-a position she has called her “dream job”-she has left to assume her “new, fancy” titles: Today show anchor at large and NBC News national and international correspondent/anchor. A day later NBC announced that Savannah Guthrie, cohost of Today‘s third hour and the show’s chief legal analyst, will take her spot. “When it became clear we could do better, we decided to make the change,” NBC News President Steve Capus tells PEOPLE of the show. “But we wanted to make sure that we had the right role for [Ann] in place.”

So what went wrong? An NBC insider says that Curry, who joined Today in 1997 as news anchor, was “not a natural” as a cohost and “could be awkward in interviews”-possible factors in Today‘s declining ratings (after beating Good Morning America for 16 straight years, it has lost the ratings battle several times since April). Another source says the network had never really wanted to give Curry the anchor role. When Vieira left, “there was a sentiment that she’d been passed over before [after Katie Couric’s 2006 departure], so this was the easiest route. That’s hardly a strong vote of confidence.” Capus denies this-“Ann was a logical choice,” he insists-but admits the fluffier stories that can feature prominently on Today were not Curry’s strong suit. After all, “It’s not where her interest is.”

Capus also dismisses the insider’s claim that it was Lauer, who recently inked a new, multi-year contract, who had asked for Curry to be replaced. “Matt has been in her corner through all of this,” says Capus. “When he caught wind that I was contemplating a change, Matt said, ‘I hope you take care of her, because she’s a friend.'”

After taking time off, Curry will be at the Summer Olympics for Today and begin reporting other stories. “Somebody sent out a note: ‘Why was there no farewell for Ann Curry?’ “says Capus. “The day she walks away from the Today show and hangs up her reporter’s notebook, the balloons can fall and champagne can flow. But we have plans to keep her very busy.”