TODAY marks 60th with an anchor homecoming

Jan. 13, 2012 at 7:40 AM ET

With a ceremony fitting a diamond anniversary, TODAY toasted six decades on the air with an anchor homecoming that brought current and former hosts together.

After 60 years, at least two things haven't changed at TODAY: We're still live from Rockefeller Center and aiming to uphold the vision of our first anchor Dave Garroway, who wanted to "put you more closely in touch with the world we live in."

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"Essentially, the program has remained the same. And that is you get up to find out if the world is still there. Is everything OK?" Barbara Walters said. "We're the people you trust."

TODAY nodded to our history by staging a scene straight out of 1952 on New York City's 49th street. The screen went black and white as a stand-in Dave Garroway broadcast from the "Window of the World." Staffers dressed in period costume looked on, and from the crowd came Matt Lauer to introduce the big reunion.

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Hugh Downs, Barbara Walters, Jim Hartz, Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, Willard Scott, Deborah Norville, Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Al Roker, Natalie Morales, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie, all gathered in Studio 1A to share their stories.

Several former TODAY Girls also joined the broadcast, including Florence Henderson, Estelle Parsons, Lee Meriwether, Robbin Bain Gaudieri and Beryl Pfizer. And in another memorable moment, the TODAY news readers reunited at the news desk

"We have more anchors than the Sixth Fleet!" Ann Curry joked. "Boy, after the week we've had celebrating, I feel like 60," said 54-year-old Matt Lauer. 

Matt, Ann and the whole crew also wished other living co-anchors Gene Shalit and Joe Garagiola well, saying they were both sorely missed at the festivities. 

During an interview with all of the past anchors, they recalled witnessing more than half a century's most important and influential news events. 

Katie remembered her reports from the Columbine shooting, while Meredith talked about covering the attack at Virginia Tech.

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"We had been to a candle-light vigil during the evening, and one of the students came up to me and he said to me, 'Can I just get a hug?'" Meredith said. "This show was sort of a surrogate mom to him. We were his family."

The moment turned more reflective as the past anchors recounted their time on the broadcast.

"The genius of Pat Weaver when he first started this is still true today," Brokaw said. "It is the electronic breakfast table. It is the great national morning newspaper."

Matt asked each to name the broadcast icon they watched before joining the show. And several named Garroway as their inspiration.

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"I admired that his approach was so easy going and so ad-libbed, literally. It was so new then," Hugh Downs said. "Garroway was a model."

Watch the full round table in video below:

Tom Hanks, who has been a guest on the show 22 times, wheeled out a giant cake for the champagne toast

"The only reason I pushed out the cake was that the trainer didn't have enough time with J. Fred Muggs," Tom joked about our former chimpanzee anchor. 

The first family, national landmarks and celebrities also toasted the show's celebration.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama saluted the broadcast in a special message.

"Over decades and across generations, the TODAY show has become a part of American culture," said the president. "We know you'll have many more years of success," Michelle added. 

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed January 13 "TODAY Show Day." "This show I think sets the standards for a lot of other television," he said. "And you should be very proud and all of the people that have worked here over the years." 

Anthony Quintano / NBC News /
The Empire State Building lights up in TODAY colors.

National landmarks across the U.S. marked the occasion Thursday night and Friday morning. The Empire State Building lit up in red, yellow and orange — the first time it has ever been illuminated for a television show — while Niagara Falls glowed with TODAY hues.

A New York Fire Department fireboat spouted orange-colored water in front of the Statue of Liberty, the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and the Cira Centre in Philadelphia saluted TODAY, and the Goodyear Blimp congratulated the show with a special message while flying over the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles.

allDAY: Behind-the-scenes images from TODAY's anchor photo booth

Throughout the week, celebrities including Justin Timberlake, Bill Cosby and Justin Bieber have been wishing TODAY well

TODAY.com also revealed your favorite moment on the show from the past 60 years: Matt's first Where in the World reveal from Egypt

Wish the broadcast a happy anniversary in the comments, and tell us your favorite moment from the eventful day!

More TODAY at 60 content:

TODAY at 60 quiz: Test your knowledge of our broadcast

Watch archival video at our TODAY at 60 online experience

Find all of the TODAY at 60 content on the allDAY blog 

Landmarks salute TODAY's 60th anniversary after dark

Don't miss a moment: How, when and where you watch TODAY

Steve Veres is an editor for TODAY.com. He wishes he looks as good as TODAY does for his 60th anniversary!