How does anyone end a 35-year run on the nation's leading morning news/information program? How should someone? With bombast, or with all due haste -- a quick goodbye, a few tributes and toasts, some quips, maybe even a street renaming...then, fade to commercial?
The latter sounds about right, and Willard Scott - ending an historic run on "Today" -- got it right, and the show got it right too.
Willard -- a young 81 -- said his final goodbye earlier Tuesday, and longtime "Today" viewers could be excused some emotion. Scott, who bids cheery birthdays to centenarians and has for years, although not quite a hundred of them, got his final farewell, and it was nice -- very nice.
Apparently genuine too, and you will note that "genuine" doesn't always come with these parting gifts on TV.
Former First Lady Barbara Bush appeared, wondering who was going to wish her a happy birthday when she turns 100 (she is 90). Cue one more time to the tape of First Lady Bush giving Willard a quick kiss at the parade route back in '89!
"I got a seven-year contract out of that kiss," quipped Willard.
Gene Shalit taped a farewell too. We haven't seen Gene in a while. Both he and Scott were pals in the old days -- perhaps a bond born of adversity after that scathing Bryant Gumbel memo surfaced.
"Today" even named a street after Willard -- or a corner, at West 49th. It's now called Willard Scott Way; be sure to let your Uber driver know.
Willard nodded politely at the nomenclature. He didn't really seem to care.
Scott, to his eternal credit, gave of his few comments to a few people who worked for him over the years. He singled out Nanette Noffsinger Crowell, a longtime "Today" staffer who died this past June. She was only 56.
He also mentioned Nancy Fields. Anyone who knows the history of "Today" knows Nancy: She was a legend here, and a member of "Today" for as long as it had been on the air. Willard had a great line about her once: "She started with Howdy Doody and ended up with me." Nancy died four years ago.
Everyone -- from Al Roker to Matt Lauer -- said they love Willard. I actually believe them. He was special. And he was an important part of the history of this institution. He was a reminder that morning TV -- an artifice after all -- is supposed to be about a "family." He was the pater familias.
Or maybe the uncle familias.
You always smiled when he was on the air.
You couldn't help yourself.
Now, this thought: Who will be around to wish "Today" happy birthday when it turns 100?