NEW YORK — Savannah Guthrie made her official debut as Matt Lauer's co-host on NBC's "Today" show Monday, shaking off nerves and starting the longtime dominant morning show's effort to move past a rough patch in its history.
The 40-year-old Guthrie, NBC's chief legal analyst, said she was honored to have one of those rare jobs "you can describe as fun and actually mean it."
"This was a little unexpected, as we all know, but I just want to say that I'm so proud and honored to be in a place occupied by so many women I admire," Guthrie said. She named all her predecessors from Ann Curry to Jane Pauley. After saying she hoped she didn't miss anyone, Lauer replied that "you'll hear if you did."
Guthrie has co-hosted the four-hour "Today" show's 9 a.m. hour for the past year. But the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. stretch with Lauer is the main event, where it directly competes with morning news shows on ABC and CBS.
She replaces Ann Curry, who was in the job for a year. A newly aggressive "Good Morning America" on ABC in the spring ended a streak where "Today" won in the ratings for every week back to 1995, and the programs have traded victories ever since. For the last week of June, the shows finished in a dead heat among viewers in Nielsen's measurement. Prestige and a lot of advertising revenue flow from being No. 1.
NBC has said little publicly about Curry's ouster. NBC News President Steve Capus told the Hollywood Reporter that it was obvious that Curry had little sincere interest in the lighter celebrity or cooking segments that are a big part of a morning anchor's job. Curry's passion is international reporting, and she's staying at NBC to lead her own reporting team, he said.
Guthrie received a mild "hazing" from her colleagues Monday, all designed to welcome her as part of the "family" atmosphere that morning television show casts like to project. They pulled out a book she read as a teenager about dreaming to become a cheerleader, and she admitted papering her girlhood walls with Duran Duran posters. They played a clip of NBC anchor Brian Williams misidentifying her as "Samantha."
The montage even showed her picking on a guitar and singing a snippet of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."
Reminding viewers that "Today" is also a news show, NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd said that Guthrie, who trained and briefly practiced as a lawyer, is "kind of a shark inside."
NBC plainly hopes for a better showing on Guthrie's "official" debut than her unofficial one. Before a vacation, she co-anchored with Lauer on June 29, one day after Curry's tearful exit, and the Nielsen company said "GMA" crushed "Today" in the ratings that day by 670,000 viewers.
NBC also wants to give viewers and her colleagues a chance to get used to Guthrie in the new role before "Today" heads to London later this month for special broadcasts during the Olympics.
The "Today" show's chief rival also had a big day Monday. ABC was debuting a "GMA" spinoff called "Good Afternoon America" as a summer replacement series.