The Real Reason Jay Leno And Katie Couric Swapped Jobs For The Day

For years, Katie Couric was one of the country's foremost television personalities. The journalist became a host of "Today" in 1991 and remained there for many years before announcing — on her 15th anniversary at the show — that she would be leaving to become the anchor of "CBS Evening News" (via ChatElaine, Distractify).

At the time, Couric was the first woman to anchor an evening news show solo, and she had the salary befitting that title. Couric reportedly was paid between $13 million and $15 million by CBS to make the jump, and even though NBC offered her $20 million to stay, Couric still decided to go with this new opportunity at a different network.

"It's been such an honor and a privilege to occupy this seat for as long as I have," Couric said when departing "Today." "Sometimes I think change is a good thing. 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." This quote could ostensibly also apply to the time Couric swapped places with a famous late-night talk show host, as it proved to be out of her comfort zone in more ways than one. 

Katie Couric and NBC were behind the idea

Although what Katie Couric does is, of course, difficult, that doesn't mean she's qualified for every single on-camera job. And in 2003, NBC set out to find out exactly what their on-camera talent's limits were.

The network initiated a "Trading Places" week, wherein their "Today" show anchors swapped jobs with someone with a very different occupation than themselves (via Chron). "Today" anchor Ann Curry switched places with soccer superstar Mia Hamm, and for Katie Couric, it was "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno. Meanwhile, Leno filled in for Couric's duties, taking over for her on "Today."

There was concern on both Leno and Couric's part as to how each of them would perform. "I'm getting notes like, 'Jay, it's morning, so don't shout like you do at night. They're sleepy,'" Leno said prior to his performance. "Also, I'm getting up at 5 a.m., and I'm used to going to bed at 3, so that will be interesting." For her part, Couric said, "I've been thinking about it a little bit — like 24/7...Because I'm wondering, who came up with this idea, anyway?" Turns out, it was Couric's.

The experiment was ultimately a success, with both "Today" and "The Tonight Show" beating their competition from other networks and "The Tonight Show" performing 50% better than a standard Monday evening (via LA Times). Maybe it's time for NBC to give the "Trading Places" approach another try — Al Roker seems like he'd be a worthy late-night host, don't you think?