May 31, 2006

NBC throws big send-off party for Couric

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - NBC feted "Today" show host Katie
Couric as a departing heroine on her last day on the TV show on
Wednesday as she leaves for her new role as the first female
solo anchor on network news.

Couric, 49, will take over in September as anchor and
managing editor of the CBS "Evening News," filling the chair
once occupied by Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather.

NBC, a unit of General Electric Co., dedicated much of
Wednesday's show to a retrospective of Couric's 15 years there,
including excerpts of her interviews with world leaders and
video clips of her reporting on top world stories.

"The word I keep coming back to is gratitude," Couric told
viewers, searching for a word to sum up her 15 years on the
show that runs for three hours each weekday morning.

"I never dreamed I would see a rainbow over Victoria Falls,
walk silently among the crosses above the beaches of Normandy,
see the Blue Mountains of Australia or get a tour of 10 Downing
Street from Tony Blair -- and that's just a small sampling of
what I'm grateful for," she said.

The show was full of sentimentality, including tributes
from fans across the United States. Couric invited her family
to the set, and she was serenaded by crooner Tony Bennett.

There were serious moments, such as recalling Couric's
efforts to promote colon cancer awareness and fund-raising by
having a colonoscopy on the air. Her husband Jay Monahan died
of the disease in 1998 at age 42, and some viewers said she
saved their lives by encouraging screening.

"I leave this morning not with a heavy heart ... but with a
very full heart, filled with love and memories and, yes,
gratitude," Couric said.

She will leave the lighter fare of early morning TV for the
more serious "Evening News" on the rival network, where
according to the Wall Street Journal she will receive an annual
salary of $15 million, a raise from her 4 1/2-year, $60 million
contract with NBC that just ended.

The power of network news has waned over the years but her
new role is nevertheless historic. Women like Barbara Walters
and Connie Chung have held similar positions, but were always
paired with men, as Couric had been paired with co-host Matt
Lauer on "Today."

"I know I'll never have a partner like you again," Couric
told Lauer on the air, "because I'll never be working with a
partner again."