Inside Ann Curry’s Bruising Breakup With NBC

She made a notorious, tearful exit from the Today show after reports Matt Lauer orchestrated her firing as co-host. Now she’s finally left NBC—but the backbiting hasn’t stopped.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The other shoe has dropped on Ann Curry’s benighted yet lucrative television career.

NBC News confirmed a report Tuesday by the New York Post’s Page Six column that Curry, 58, has left the network after protracted negotiations to terminate her contract, which the gossip column said was worth up to $12 million a year—a figure that a veteran NBC News executive confirmed to the Daily Beast.

For Curry, it was a poignant yet predictable outcome. She has been on the air relatively little since her tearful June 2012 exit from the Today show, a humiliating firing that was widely blamed on co-host Matt Lauer (including by Curry, judging from her on-air body language) and precipitated a disastrous viewer exodus from the once-dominant morning program.

Still, Tuesday’s leak of her departure—after a quarter century at the network news division—caught NBC by surprise, and executives scrambled to put the best face on yet another airing of NBC News’s dirty laundry.

“I am sincerely grateful to NBC News for allowing me to offer viewers a vast and diverse body of work, including a depth of humanitarian reporting I understand still resonates,” NBC’s press release quotes Curry, who, the release said, is developing a multi-platform media startup that will offer content to NBC as well as to other television and online outlets. “It has been a privilege to work with so many good and talented people at the network and I look forward to what we will do ahead. At the same time, I can’t wait to expand my reach and work with people I admire in other places.”

The press release, which noted that Curry’s new company will have a business arrangement with NBC Universal, also quotes Pat Fili-Krushel, chairman of the NBC Universal News Group. “We’re proud to support Ann in her new venture, and we look forward to more of her exceptional storytelling,” Fili-Krushel says.

Starting in 1997 and for 13 years, Curry was the news reader on the iconic morning show; she had hoped to succeed Katie Couric as Lauer’s co-host when Meredith Vieira got the gig in 2005. Beyond her Today news anchor job, she had established herself as an intrepid, award-winning correspondent who traveled to war zones, grilled third-world dictators and U.S. presidents, and regularly put herself in harm’s way in order to spotlight the world’s disenfranchised, poverty-stricken, sickness-plagued and abused.

In 2011, NBC executives finally gave Curry the Today co-hosting job she wanted—her contract permitted her to leave if they didn’t—but it soon became apparent to the network suits that Curry and Lauer lacked chemistry.

Since her cringe-worthy on-camera farewell, in which she didn’t bother to hide her disaffection for her co-host, the network has been beset by a series of embarrassing press accounts in which Lauer was compelled to repeatedly deny that he engineered Curry’s removal, and the program was portrayed as unraveling.

Two and a half years later, Today is still trying to recover from the damage.

“Ann is very likable—she’s a good person,” a veteran NBC News executive told the Daily Beast, “but a lot of people at NBC didn’t like that she and her representatives waged a campaign solely targeted at Matt Lauer and that it just never stopped. Whether she personally orchestrated it, I don’t know, but there’s no question she was involved. And as far as anybody knows, it continues to this day. It was unfair when she started it, and it’s unfair today.”

This executive added that it was then-news president Steve Capus, not Lauer, who determined that Curry’s co-hosting gig wasn’t working and that a change was necessary. She was informed of Capus’s decision many weeks before her departure, and NBC executives toiled long and hard with Curry’s representatives to ensure her bright future at the network, including providing her with a rich contract.

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“Nobody put a gun to her head to sign the contract,” the veteran executive said. “There were extensive conversations about what the company would say and would Ann would say, and then it all kind of fell apart, and she never did anything to set the record straight.”

The executive added: “Everybody understood the emotion, of course. Ann cared deeply about the kind of work she was doing…She is a good person and she wears her heart on her sleeve, and her emotions were on full display that terrible morning on the Today show…But she never tried to move off of that, and she played the blame game, and never considered her own actions.”

That Curry apparently continued to hold a grudge against Lauer—an impression that was painfully conspicuous during an awkward and chilly joint appearance during NBC’s Olympics coverage a few weeks after her goodbye—was especially galling to the suits, because she was taking so much of the company’s money. “Many people thought it was hypocritical,” said the executive.

Not surprisingly, a source close to Curry vigorously disputed those assertions, and added: “We’re not going to into a ‘he said, she said’ thing. All I can tell you is people can say anything they want to minimize what Ann’s done…but the facts speak for themselves. Ann’s coming off a year where she’s been nominated for five Emmys. She produced a report on climate change that was extremely well-received…she had an interview with the president of Iran. So Ann’s had an incredible year and she’s taking that momentum into this new venture that’s going to allow her to appear on all sorts of platforms in addition to NBC—other networks and other news outlets. This is going to be a great move for Ann.”