DAVID BAUDER,AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Ann Curry offered a tearful goodbye as co-host of NBC's "Today" show on Thursday, saying "this is not as I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years."
Her exit represents NBC's most visible response to the popular morning show's worst stretch in the ratings in nearly two decades. "Today" hadn't lost a single week since 1996, but this spring it was beaten four times by ABC's resurgent "Good Morning America."
Curry's exit marked a stark contrast to the lengthy tribute shows given to predecessors Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric. She announced it during the final five minutes of her shift on Thursday, ending a week of awkward television as she continued working after word spread that NBC was looking to oust her.
"For all of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I'm sorry I couldn't carry the ball over the finish line but, man, I did try," she said, breaking down.
Curry joined the show as a news anchor in 1997. Passed over for the co-host job when Vieira replaced Couric, she was given the chance when Vieira left last June. But her pairing with co-host Matt Lauer never seemed to click and she took the fall for the show's ratings troubles.
NBC's Savannah Guthrie is expected to replace Curry.
Curry will remain at NBC News, saying she's been given a "fancy new title" to lead a reporting team. NBC said she will be anchor-at-large and national and international correspondent. Her work will occasionally resurface on "Today," and Lauer said she will be in London with the show for the Olympics.
He sat next to Curry, Al Roker and Natalie Morales on the couch as Curry choked back tears and apologized for being a "sob sister."
"It's not goodbye, not by a long shot," a grim-faced Lauer said.
Each of her colleagues recalled some of Curry's reporting from her "Today" tenure, but there was no video tribute. The "Today" website displayed "15 top Ann moments spanning her 15 years on TV," asking viewers to vote on their favorite.
"To all of you watching, thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me touch yours," she said.