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PAULEY LEAVING `TODAY’ SHOW AT YEAR’S END

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After 13 years of predawn "Today" wakeups, co-host Jane Pauley confirmed to a national audience this morning that she's leaving the NBC show at year's end. She hugged her successor, Deborah Norville and gave her an alarm clock.

Pauley's farewell announcement, in which she said she'll most miss working with co-host Bryant Gumbel, was preceded by his comments in which he criticized "idle and often erroneous speculation" about the troubled, top-rated show.Gumbel said the speculation had been "much to the detriment of all of us here."

Pauley had been reported to be unhappy at recent changes on the show, including the Sept. 5 arrival of Norville as its news anchor, succeeding John Palmer.

Referring to Pauley as "my buddy" and that "it goes without saying that I'm going to miss her," Gumbel said that she's leaving the show "sometime at the end of this year or January of next year" but isn't leaving NBC News.

Pauley, who turns 39 on Tuesday and has two years remaining on an NBC contract reportedly paying her $1.2 million annually, is going to anchor a prime-time news series next year, sources have said.

She said that "persuading NBC that it was time for a crew change is the hardest thing I have ever done. It has taken two long months."