Heidi Gutman / Heidi Gutman/NBC
By Lester Holt, TODAY
I have flown with the Blue Angels, performed at the Grand Ole Opry, rocketed down an icy track with the U.S. bobsled team, sailed aboard a nuclear submarine, explored an underwater hotel, learned to track elephants in the African wilds, and come face-to-face with great white sharks in the Indian Ocean.
While that certainly reads like a bucket list, it's in fact just a handful of the memorable assignments from my nine years as co-anchor of Weekend TODAY show. As we celebrate the weekend edition's 25th anniversary, a lot of highlight clips have been surfacing, reminding all of us who have been associated with the program that these are truly among the best jobs in television. Being able to take viewers to places they perhaps have never been, and to do things they might not have the opportunity to experience for themselves, is a thrill and real privilege.
I have the distinction of being Weekend TODAY’s longest-running anchor. Campbell Brown and I actually started together back in 2003, becoming the show’s 15th and 16th hosts. Campbell had just finished her stint as NBC White House correspondent, and I was still anchoring a regular show four days a week on MSNBC. For me, coming to weekend TODAY was a bittersweet promotion in that I was taking the seat that had been previously occupied by our friend and colleague David Bloom. David, you’ll recall, tragically died in March of 2003 while covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
What I remember most during that time was the incredible support of the show’s staff as Campbell and I settled into our roles and began to put our stamp on the program, including our one-time answer to Matt’s “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer,” which we called “Where in the heck are Lester and Campbell?” (Two points if you can remember where we ended up!*)
For every fantasy adventure in the field or wildly fun moment on the plaza, there were those moments we’d like to forget, from child guests suffering on-air meltdowns to animal segments gone wrong. I can still recall the discomfort of trying to remain “cool” when a puppy scratched me in the face and drew blood on the air, and the disgust of being urinated on by a snake during another live studio segment. Then there was my visit to stuntman school, which landed me in the emergency room and in a cast for five weeks.
TODAY expanded to Sundays in 1987, and five years later the Saturday edition was added in recognition of the fact that news doesn't stop on the weekend. A lot of major stories — from the space shuttle Columbia disaster to the capture of Saddam Hussein — occurred on the weekend watch. While we have had a lot of fun on the show in keeping with the weekend mood, we’ve never lost sight of our No. 1 responsibility: to report the news. We've taken the show on the road a lot to cover the big stories, from natural disasters at home to political upheaval and war overseas.
This Sunday, Jenna Wolfe and I are looking forward to inviting back some of our predecessors to share highlights of the last 25 years, and talk about the special bond among those who have “held the fort” around here on weekends.
*Now, so where in the heck were Campbell and Lester? She ended up in New Orleans, and I popped up in Las Vegas.
Lester Holt is an anchor for Dateline NBC and a weekend anchor for Nightly News and TODAY.
Be sure to tune in this Saturday and Sunday as Weekend TODAY celebrates its 25th anniversary.