Ending the longest run on “Today” and possibly the longest one at NBC -- on-air or otherwise -- Willard Scott will retire Dec. 15 as the show’s sometime weatherman and full time centenarian birthday wisher.
Scott, 81, did not announce his own departure. That was instead left to Matt Lauer who said after a commercial break that “we are back with some bittersweet news.” After announcing Scott’s retirement, he then cut to a classic Scott moment -- when during the 1989 presidential inaugural parade First Lady Barbara Bush broke away from her husband’s side, and rushed over to Scott, who was set up along the parade route. He had beckoned to Bush, and she responded with a career-making photo op -- a quick kiss.
Scott ceded his weatherman role years ago to Al Roker, but has maintained a steady presence here, as Smucker’s pitchman, and birthday well-wisher to viewers who are a hundred years-old-plus. It’s been a popular “Today” fixture for years, dating back to the early ‘80s. Scott joined the show in 1980, but he’d been tied to NBC for years, mostly via the NBC-owned WRC in Washington, D.C., where Scott is based.
He’s been a beloved figure here, long ago a slightly controversial one too. Back in the day, some network news executives were concerned about Scott’s overt commercial ties (he was once Ronald McDonald). Major network news figures -- from anchors to correspondents --are prohibited from making product endorsements. Scott has been the exception -- although not the only one.
A folksy figure, Scott was loved by some critics, too -- including the Washington Post’s Tom Shales, who called him a national treasure. He was unquestionably popular on “Today,” but became part of another chapter in the show’s history when then-Newsday reporter Kevin Goldman secured a memo in 1989 written by co-host Bryant Gumbel, who complained that Scott “holds the show hostage to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays and bad taste.” Gumbel left in 1997. Roker had replaced Scott as fulltime weatherman at “Today” the year before.