By Christine Kearney and Ronald Grover
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Savannah Guthrie will replace Ann Curry as co-host of NBC's "Today" Show, NBC announced on Friday, a day after Curry made an emotional early exit from one of America's most high-profile television slots.
Guthrie, 40, who previously served as co-host of the morning program's third hour, will join Matt Lauer in the main hosting chairs in a shake-up of the show's line-up aimed at curbing a recent decline in ratings, the network said.
"She's got an undeniable range, and she's earned the trust of the news community, her colleagues and our viewers alike. I couldn't be happier for Savannah and the entire ‘Today' team," NBC News President Steve Capus said in a statement.
Guthrie joined "Today" in June 2011 after a nearly three-year stint as a White House correspondent for NBC News. She holds a law degree from Georgetown University and will keep her title as chief legal correspondent for NBC News.
Guthrie replaced Curry after "Today" had slipped in the ratings since Curry took the chair co-hosting with Lauer in June 2011.
In April, ABC's "Good Morning America" moved ahead of "Today" in the weekly ratings race among total viewers for the first time in 16 years, according to Horizon Media. "Today" kept the lead among adults aged 25 to 54.
Since then, the two shows have traded the No. 1 spot among total viewers.
"It's going to take a while to see if Savannah Guthrie will make a difference in the ratings," said Syracuse professor Robert Thompson and director of its Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. "Was Anne Curry the problem, or has Good Morning America just become more aggressive?"
The departing anchor was part of the show for 15 years as its news reader before becoming co-host, Thompson said, "so she ought to get some credit for its ratings success as well."
Curry made an emotional on-air departure from the show on Thursday after just a year in the job, tearfully thanking the viewers who had supported her and saying that for those "who saw me as a ground breaker, I am sorry I could not carry the ball across the finish line."
She will remain as an anchor-at-large for "Today" and other NBC newscasts while reporting on stories from around the globe.
"Today", a huge profit center for NBC, generated $848 million in advertising revenue for the company last year, while "Good Morning America" made about $298 million, according to Horizon Media.
Comcast Corp owns NBC, and Walt Disney Co owns ABC.
(Reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Dale Hudson)