Five years ago, Savannah Guthrie rolled the dice and walked away from a promising legal career to try to make it in television news. After a little more than a year at NBC, she landed the plum job of covering the White House. And in two weeks, Guthrie will add new duties to her plate: She'll be anchoring a daily morning show on MSNBC with Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd.
"It's beyond any reporter's dream," the 38-year-old said of her current assignment, for which she rises by 4:30 a.m. to cram information about toxic assets, Afghanistan and healthcare reform. "What's amazing is how many people in Washington are awake at that hour."
Had things gone differently, the graduate of Georgetown University Law Center would have likely been rising early to write legal briefs instead. Court TV snapped her up as trial correspondent, which led to a gig as a legal analyst for NBC News, which then hired her as a correspondent in September 2007. A year later, Guthrie found herself covering one of the biggest stories of the year: the campaign of GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
"She has the spunk of Mary Tyler Moore and the toughness of Lou Grant," said NBC anchor Brian Williams. "I'm selfishly glad she chose journalism over law."
-- Matea Gold ELLEN DeGENERES
'AMERICAN IDOL' JUDGE
She's not a new face by any stretch, but when Ellen DeGeneres takes over the "American Idol" judging position vacated by Paula Abdul, the Emmy-winning talk show host and comic is sure to become the most scrutinized TV personality of the new year.
Known as one of "Idol's" biggest fans, DeGeneres' new gig has been received with equal measures of enthusiasm and skepticism. On the one hand, her quick wit could spin the aging show to heightened levels of success. On the other, "Idol" fans might miss Abdul's comedic loopiness or prefer someone with recording artist experience.
DeGeneres has said she hopes to present "the people's point of view" and approach her job as a member of the music-buying public, leaving the technical critiquing to her peers. She takes over the fourth chair next month during the show's grueling "Hollywood Week" auditions.
-- Maria Elena Fernandez JURNEE SMOLLETT
ACTRESS, 'FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS'
In her last big role in "The Great Debaters," Jurnee Smollett played a smart high schooler who was dedicated to improving herself by hitting the books. But now, Smollett is playing a character who is interested in another kind of hit altogether -- hits on the football field.
Smolett is one of the new additions to the cast of the football drama, which will air its fourth season this year on NBC (episodes are currently airing on DirectTV). The young actress is thrilled to be playing Jess Merriweather, the daughter of an ex-football player who knows more about the sport than her fellow male classmates.
"Being on this show has been better than I ever could have imagined," said Smolett, whose past credits include several guest spots on series such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "House" as well as the film "Eve's Bayou."
She had been a fan of the series before being cast and was impressed with the naturalness of the dialogue and the character interactions. "It didn't feel like I was watching a TV show," she said. "The dialogue never seemed forced."