When the announcement came on Tuesday morning, two glasses of white wine stood mournfully half-filled to the side of Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford.
The glasses of wine became the symbol of their show, and so it was natural for the vessels—now branded with the hosts’ names—to symbolically bracket Gifford’s announcement that she will leave her co-hosting perch of the 10am hour of NBC’s Today.
Informed insiders believe that Jenna Bush Hager is the likely Today personality to take over the position—which will be vacated next April by Gifford—due in part to her on and offscreen chemistry with her Kotb.
One source at NBC told The Daily Beast this would be a “big blow” to Carson Daly, who had been eyeing the job.
Another source at NBC said: “We knew this was coming. We've been planning for it for months. She (Kathie Lee) wants to with her kids in LA.”
The Daily Beast approached NBC and representatives for Gifford for comment, and will add if any is forthcoming.
When they began the show, Kotb noted last April, “Kath always said, ‘Oh wait, we’ve got an Egyptian journalist and a post-menopausal has-been. How are those two things going to work?’… We fell in love. Magic happens when we are just enjoying life.”
Tuesday morning’s farewell announcement was emotional, to match the mood of Kotb and Gifford’s many fans, and apposite for a show so well-known it was featured on SNL, in which the women’s drinking and Gifford’s breaking into song were both parodied.
From ‘Boozeday Tuesday’ to ‘Winesday Wednesday,’ the glasses were an early feature of the show (the women said they had originally featured during a segment involving Chelsea Handler), aimed squarely at a mainly female audience at home, stealing away for an hour of fun with a duo who soon became daytime’s Lucy and Ethel.
“Sometimes we sip a lot,” Gifford said when the show celebrated its 10th anniversary.
The glasses said, “Welcome to our party,” Kotb said, referring to them as props.
Before the ill-fated Megyn Kelly’s arrival, the 10am hour was Today’s most distinctive and outrageous hour, with Kotb, in her words, playing “sidekick” to the freewheeling Gifford. Their conversations ranged wildly, as when Gifford got Kotb to own up to “a landing strip” when it came to “grooming downstairs” (Kotb’s words).
When the women asked comedian Joel McHale why he mocked the show so much, he replied, perfectly deadpan, “Have you seen your show?”
In a memo, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim said: “When we first launched this incredible hour, no one could have predicted the lightning (or rather, wine) in a bottle that is Hoda [Kotb] & Kathie Lee. Whether in studio or on one of their many road trips, they have delighted our audience with their distinct brand of fun, friendship and adventure. During that time, Kathie Lee has cemented her status as one of the most enduring and endearing talents in morning television. In short–she is a legend.”
Gifford was leaving to pursue film, music and book projects, Oppenheim said.
Gifford's stately departure, accompanied by so many warm words, signals that NBC wants this Today show transition to be as drama-free as possible, without the rancor and negative publicity of Kelly and Matt Lauer's.
Radar Online, however, reported Gifford and Kotb were “feuding,” with unnamed sources claiming the two women were no longer friends following Kotb's promotion at Today.
Some commentators described it as a “shock departure,” but, for fans of the 10am hour that isn’t strictly true. Since Kotb’s elevation to main Today show co-anchor, the 10am hour has undergone its own transition.
When the women presented the 10am show together, the warmth was still there, though Gifford’s absences become more noticeable, particularly when she took extended time off to make a movie in Scotland with Craig Ferguson.
Announcing her departure on air, Gifford said it was “bittersweet as these things always are.”
As she said when the show turned 10 in April, Gifford repeated she thought she would be presenting the 10am hour for a year, which had become eleven. “Something happened along the way. I fell in love with a beautiful Egyptian goddess.” (Kotb’s parents are both Egyptian, and raised their family in the U.S.)
In April, Kotb insisted the women were “real friends, not TV friends.” During the 10-plus years, Kotb has settled down with her partner Joel Schiffman and their child Haley Joy, while Gifford’s husband Frank died in 2015.
Gifford said this was an “exciting time” for her. But it was also a hard decision to leave the show, she said, as she “loved everyone” there so much.
“I’ve been in the business 120 years and I‘ve never worked with a more beautiful group of people who just give, give, give every day….We have fun, we laugh, we support one another….we know each other’s kids names, we know when someone’s having a colonoscopy. We do life together, no one more so than my Hoda.”
Gifford said that “you didn’t share the kind of life” she had shared with Kotb or Regis Philbin, who she co-presented ABC’s Live! with for 15 years, “and not be changed forever by it.”
Kotb’s voice broke as she described how “everything good in my life has happened since you came.” She felt she would not have met her partner or been a parent had Kathie Lee not “chosen” her as a co-anchor.
Both women said they trusted the other to catch them should they fall during a live broadcast. (This was not a wine reference.)
Gifford said they had not long been colleagues before they became fast friends.
“Now we’re going to be friends for the rest of our lives,” said Gifford. A devout Christian, she added, “God used you in my life every bit as much as he used me in yours. That's the way it goes. There are no crumbs on His table.”
Gifford thanked the audience at home, and both women said they loved each other and embraced.
In her own public statement, Gifford said, “In 2008, I joined the Today show family intending to spend one year. But something unexpected happened along the way: I fell in love with a beautiful, talented, extraordinary Egyptian goddess named Hoda, and an amazing group of individuals who work tirelessly and joyfully at their jobs, many of them starting at midnight, creating an unprecedented four hours of live television.
“I stayed year after year making a million memories with people I will never forget. I leave Today with a grateful heart but I’m truly excited for this new creative season in my life. Many thanks to all the wonderful people who made the years fly by.”