NEW YORK - With Matt Lauer bringing the box of tissues, the "Today" show threw a going-away party Wednesday for 15-year host Katie Couric, who is leaving to become the next anchor of the "CBS Evening News."
Co-host Lauer placed the tissue box on the desk at the show's opening, saying "this is not for you, this for me."
Couric's long goodbye began April 5, the 15th anniversary of her first day as Bryant Gumbel's co-host on "Today," when she announced that she would be leaving to accept CBS' offer to replace Bob Schieffer on the evening news. She said the time was right for a new challenge.
"Today" has dominated morning television for more than 10 years, never losing a week in the ratings, and is the most profitable show on television in advertising revenue.
The first tear was spotted in the corner of Couric's eye at 7:42 a.m., after "Today" talked to six people she had interviewed — an inspiring school principal, a woman brutally raped in Central Park, survivors of the Columbine school shooting and the World Trade Center bombing and parents of a boy who had died of brain cancer.
"In meeting her and talking to her, I felt that it helped heal me as well," said Lauren Manning, who was burned during the terrorist attack.
During her time on the air, "Today" fans watched as Couric, 49, grew from a chipper young reporter, to a mother with two girls and a young widow when her husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer. She underwent an on-air colonoscopy that encouraged thousands of Americans to do the same, which doctors called the "Couric Effect."
"Today" has had some troubles in recent years, going through three executive producers and nearly being dethroned by ABC's "Good Morning America" as Couric's increasingly glamorous on-air appearance turned some viewers off. But it has rebounded strongly in the past year.
NBC is shutting down its streetside Rockefeller Center studio after Couric leaves for a summer makeover, preparing for Meredith Vieira of "The View" to take over as her successor in the fall. "Today" will spend the summer in an outside studio nearby.
"Today" began its tribute showing Couric awakened by an alarm clock at 5 a.m., followed by a back-up wakeup call from her driver. Al Roker joked how Couric sometimes made it to work with only about 15 minutes to spare.
The first film clips of her career emphasized hard-nosed interviews of politicians like Ross Perot, the first President Bush and Colin Powell, perhaps offering a message to critics who questioned her news credentials after working on a show that mixed in so much lighter fare.
But "Today" also showed Couric's off-key singing with guests Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett.
"Some of the things I did — whoa!" Couric said.
"We could do a whole three hours on that," Lauer replied.
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