NEW YORK (AP) _ On her 15th anniversary on ``Today,'' Katie Couric told viewers Wednesday she's leaving NBC to join CBS, where she will become the first woman appointed to anchor a network evening newscast alone.
``I wanted to tell all of you out there who have watched the show for the past 15 years that after listening to my heart and my gut _ two things that have served me pretty well in the past _ I've decided I'll be leaving 'Today' at the end of May,'' she said. ``I really feel as if we've become friends through the years.''
Hours later, CBS confirmed that she will be anchor and managing editor of the evening news. Couric, 49, will also do prime-time specials and contribute to ``60 Minutes'' as part of the five-year deal.
Couric, longest-serving anchor in the 54-year history of ``Today,'' agreed to a salary near her current range of $13 million to $15 million for five years, according to a non-network person close to Couric, speaking on condition of anonymity.
``I'm personally so excited that Katie Couric is coming to the CBS News family,'' said Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president. ``With this move, our news division takes yet another giant leap forward. Katie is simply one of the best in the business and represents a tremendous addition to CBS News.''
Meanwhile, Meredith Vieira of the daytime chat show ``The View'' appears close to accepting NBC's offer to replace Couric, probably in September, according to a person with knowledge of NBC's negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity. Vieira has a news background as a former correspondent for ``60 Minutes.''
An NBC spokeswoman, and Vieira's agent, Michael Glantz, said they wouldn't comment on the succession.
Following a months-long guessing game that has consumed the TV industry, Couric chose the 15th anniversary of her first day as ``Today'' co-host in 1991 to say it's time for a change. ``Today'' ran a clip of her first day with then co-host Bryant Gumbel, which Couric joked was ``172 hairstyles'' ago.
``Sometimes I think change is a good thing,'' Couric said. ``Although it may be terrifying to get out of your comfort zone, it's also very exciting to start a new chapter in your life.''
``It's hard to imagine being here and not having you sitting next to us,'' co-host Matt Lauer told her.
The bold move simultaneously forces NBC to find a new team for ``Today,'' television's most profitable news program, and gives CBS News President Sean McManus a major success in his effort to lure more stars to his beleaguered news organization.
Couric, Lauer, newsreader Ann Curry and weathercaster Al Roker have formed TV news' most successful morning team in history since 1997, with ``Today'' riding an unprecedented 10-year streak at the top of the ratings.
During that time, morning news programs have simultaneously grown in influence and have become important entertainment vehicles. The job required Couric to both interview presidents and don goofy costumes on Halloween, not to mention having to wake up well before dawn.
``Today'' is currently seen by about 6 million viewers a day, while the ``CBS Evening News'' has been averaging upwards of 7.5 million. But it's a significant change in status from top dog to underdog: CBS' evening newscast has been at the rear in the ratings for many years.
Couric's contract with NBC, owned by General Electric Co., extends to the end of May and she's expected to remain at ``Today'' through that ratings sweeps month.
The lure of trying something new and making history in the evening proved enticing to Couric. She spurned a more lucrative offer _ about $20 million a year _ to remain at NBC and accept the CBS Corp. offer, the person close to Couric said.
With Bob Schieffer filling in during the year since Dan Rather's exit, the ``CBS Evening News'' is the only network evening newscast rising in the ratings.
``I will be delighted if she came,'' Schieffer said Tuesday. ``I think she'll be a great addition to a very good news team. ... I've known Katie for years and I think the world of her.''
If a deal with Vieira can't be reached, the top in-house candidates to replace Couric are ``Today'' weekend anchor Campbell Brown, NBC reporter Natalie Morales and Curry.