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Savannah Guthrie quietly takes ‘Today’ co-host chair

By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — So much for the welcoming party. Savannah Guthrie turned up as the new co-host of NBC’s “Today” on Friday without fanfare; a news release on her new position was not put out until hours after the show ended.

Guthrie replaces Ann Curry, who tearfully told viewers of her departure on Thursday, leading to a wave of support from fans outraged by NBC’s handling of the situation.

No mention was made of the circumstances on Friday’s show, with Guthrie — who already co-hosts “Today’s” third hour — merely taking her place alongside Matt Lauer on the sofa. Nor was Guthrie’s new role cited on-air.

Only hours later did NBC clarify that the new “Today” team of Guthrie, Lauer, Al Roker and Natalie Morales “officially debuts Monday, July 9.” “Today” has been the most-watched morning show for years in the U.S. but has lately lost ground to its main competitor, ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said in a statement that “in just a few short years Savannah has become a standout member of the news division as well as the ultimate team player.”

NBC executives’ handling of the situation has been puzzling, especially on behalf of a top-rated show that tries so hard to foster emotional ties with viewers. TV host Deborah Norville (who was herself ensnared in a “Today” anchor drama in the early 1990s) said Curry appeared “truly wounded” during her farewell appearance. One newspaper described Curry’s breakdown as Lauer and others looked on uncomfortably — followed by Guthrie’s unremarked-upon appearance one day later — as “surreal.”

Bill Carroll, a vice president at Katz Television Group in New York, which advises local TV stations on programming and other issues, said the approaching Summer Olympics are expected to focus viewers’ attention on NBC, the broadcaster of the Games, and likely forced the network’s hand. But he added that the situation had nevertheless been handled badly for all involved.

“It’s been strange, to be kind,” Carroll said. “It’s like not telling the kids you’re getting a divorce and the next day, your girlfriend is there.”

The awkwardness also creates an additional hurdle for Guthrie, whom Carroll praised: “She’s young, she’s energetic, she has the credentials to do the hard-news element.”

A lawyer by training, the 40-year-old Guthrie joined “Today” a year ago as co-host of the third hour and as chief legal correspondent. From 2008 to 2011, she was NBC News’ White House correspondent. At 5-foot-10, she is so tall that she often has to work barefoot in the studio to avoid towering over guests during interviews.

She’s also young enough that she can speak the lingo of younger viewers — a fact probably not lost on network executives always worried about appealing to that demographic. Last month, during a bouncy commencement address at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Guthrie congratulated the class of 2012, then quickly added that she was tweeting her message as well.

“Sorry, but with your generation, if you don’t tweet it or send it to Instagram, it’s like it never ever happened,” she said.

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