"This is not easy to say" said a dry-eyed Ann Curry to the camera. Those were the last words she got out of her mouth without tears.
Once she actually got into her farewell to the "Today" show on Thursday morning, the tears flowed so copiously she herself apologized for being a "sob sister."
"They're going to give me fancy new titles," said the woman whose removal from "Today" became necessary when the show actually started losing the Nielsen derby to "Good Morning, America" after supremacy going back to the presidency of Bill Clinton. She is, as we've known for days, going back to gallivanting around the world as a special correspondent and doing reports for all manner of NBS News outposts, including the "Today" show.
As long as ratings no longer depended on her brightness and good cheer in the morning, she could still have a job at NBC News.
"After all those years, I'm not even sure I can sleep in anymore," she told the audience. And then, for the biggest "reveal" of all, she said to the camera straight out, "For all of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I'm sorry I couldn't make it to the finish line but I did try."
Translation: I had no intention of going quietly and still don't.
Right on, sister.
I've never been all that much of an Ann Curry fan before – until now. I liked the way she handled her on-air demise at the hands of the suits and their infernal, ever-present search for metric dominance.
She didn't disappear. She didn't sulk in her tent. The network was leaking "Ann Curry is dead on ‘Today' " stories like a sieve and she said nothing for quotation back. Instead, she showed up for work every morning while most of the nastier snarksters in America got in their licks all over the snark pools of both mainstream journalism AND the Internet.
As I watched the "Goodbye Ann" edition of "Today" Thursday morning, I realized two things:
1) Her biggest trouble wasn't her inability to snap journalistic towels back at Al Roker and Matt Lauer a la Katie and Meredith, it was probably her voice.
To understand, you had to see her interview with Matthew McConaughey, co-star of "Magic Mike," making the rounds to sell the thing. McConaughey's voice and Southern accent always spread across every occasion like an outpouring of honey and lemon butter. Watch him for long enough, and you can't wait to wash your hands. You swear they'd somehow gotten greasy and sticky at the same time. (The man is practically a breakfast all to himself.)
Curry's voice sounded even lower and more seductive than McConaughey's lemon butter purr. No wonder people found it difficult to wake up to. At a time of day when you want people who fit in with a large steaming cup of French roast so thick you could stand a spoon upright in it, Curry sounds like a double shot of cognac in a snifter at 11:15 p.m. It's a voice you'd want to hear before you drift off to never-never land rather than right after the alarm clock.
However good it was for reporting stories and delivering the news, it just didn't scream "morning" when you put it on the couch. In fact, it was too seductive to scream at all. Curry simply couldn't help SOUNDING cultivated every time she opened her mouth.
2) If "Today" is having ratings troubles, they can't blame them all on Curry. From what I saw Thursday, frankly, it's not a very interesting TV show anymore. In its second hour, it was jammed top to bottom with the sort of thoughtless, conventional, knee-jerk TV journalism which can't help but give the profession a bad name in the exact era when the profession is more in need of creativity and surprise and individuality than ever before.
You find this kind of "so what" stuff all over the place – in conventional wire service pieces for print that are indistinguishable from one another (and not especially good to begin with), in TV news segments that are cliches before anyone says "boo."
There was, for instance, a segment Thursday where Roker interviewed a couple of big-selling novelists on all those "beach reads" that mythical Americans are dying to dive into after they've slathered themselves with cocoa butter from scalp to toe.
And that's where things actually got to be a bit of fun.
That's where we got a little flash of everything the "Today" show needs on its couch to put it back in the Couric/Viera supremacy business.
One of the authors tapped to recommend "beach reads" for Americans was that best-seller machine Janet Evanovich who, it turns out, is so delightful she ought to be on some network's couch every morning just talking and hacking around.
Nor were her book choices choked with cocoa butter storytelling and dismissible "chick lit" either. She wanted to tell the world about Joan Rivers' book "I Hate Everyone Starting with Me." And the new book by Anthony Bourdain. And Rafael Nadal's memoir "Rafa," which she admitted buying because she liked the "come hither" cover, which turned the tennis whiz into a pinup boy.
Evanovich is an attractive woman of a certain age but hardly a chic, sleek, well-educated swan in the Savannah Guthrie mode (she's the much-reported choice to carry "Today" into the future.) Evanovich looks like a short-haired woman who just dropped the kids off at school and who goes on TV when she's ready to play, crack wise and do things differently.
In other words, she's got a completely unpredictable writer's sensibility. And if they could figure out at "Today" how to bring some of that back to the show, they might get people's attention again.
It goes without saying, of course, that a writer with Evanovich's staggering best-seller success would have to be certifiable to even consider chaining herself to a couch daily next to Roker and Lauer.
But in a mere few minutes on "Farewell Ann" day, she gave the show all the personality, feistiness and unpredictability that it needs to get its caffeine reputation back.
Meanwhile, I wish Curry and her snifter of vocal brandy all the luck in the world. In her gutsy farewell, she hung in there despite the snark, parried indignity with dignity and presented an eternally memorable lesson in honor to a racket that, to its endless discredit, never valued it in the slightest.