How Jenna Bush Hager Became Kathie Lee Gifford's Perfect Today Replacement

Hoda Kotb's newest co-host has developed a huge fan base with her authenticity and humor

By Mike Vulpo Apr 08, 2019 10:00 AMTags
Watch: Kathie Lee Gifford's Final Advice for Jenna Bush Hager

Anything can happen on live TV.

Jenna Bush Hager was reminded of that all too real phrase one morning around 10 a.m. when she was co-hosting Today's fourth hour with Kathie Lee Gifford.

While she was reliving her kids-free getaway to Mexico with husband Henry Hager, Jenna was innocently interrupted by her two children Poppy and Mila.

"Mama has a cat!" Poppy began to repeat from the audience as cameras rolled. "Mama has a cat!"

"I brought them because they were off of school and I wanted them to come but this was a terrible idea," Jenna shared as Kathie Lee joined the audience in laughing hysterically. "I don't even have a cat anymore."

Today Show Family Album

The impromptu family moment quickly became a favorite among viewers. It also was further proof to Kathie Lee that Jenna was Today's girl in the event that she would leave the show.

"The two weeks that you guys were off at the Olympics and it was mostly Jenna in with me and those two weeks, I saw you blossom," Kathie Lee shared on Today when news broke that Jenna would be replacing her. "Those two weeks you started to trust your instincts."

She added, "When you stop caring about what people think, that's when the magic happens.  And when the girls came on and your mom was here…It was magic television. I said she's going to be just fine."

It's one of the many qualities daytime TV fans have admired about Jenna ever since she joined the NBC morning show in 2009 as a special correspondent and contributor.

At the beginning, Jenna was also balancing a teaching job in Baltimore. But as she began working out of the Washington D.C. office, a boss suggested she head to the Olympics and be part of Today's coverage. "I was walking home from school—and he said, 'Do you want to go to the Olympics?'" Jenna recalled. "I remember thinking, 'Me? Why would they want me to go?' But I knew this way I could really learn. And that was the Vancouver Olympics."

While viewers admired her profiles on everyone from St. Jude children or celebrities like Joanna Gaines, it was her personality that shined through as she got more air time throughout the show's four hours. From telling stories about her children's first day of school to playfully slamming rumors that she wasn't pregnant, Jenna was relatable and felt like a friend to many viewers across the country. 

Today's Kathie Lee and Hoda From A-Z

"You not only have a presence and a gift, but you earned it," Kathie Lee recently shared on Today when praising her friend and co-worker. "You earned the right to sit and be something to all these wonderful people that watch us every day."

As anyone in the news business can relate to, not every day is perfect. When covering the 2017 Golden Globes, Jenna accidentally called Pharrell Williams' movie Hidden Fences instead of Hidden Figures.

While social media was quick to criticize Jenna, her authentic and sincere apology made many fans admire her even more.

Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

"I had an error in the night, which I have to apologize for. When I was interviewing the incomparable Pharrell, who I adore, I accidentally called Hidden Figures Hidden Fences," she shared on Today the next day while holding back tears. "I have seen both movies. I thought they were both brilliant. I've interviewed casts from both the movies and if I offended people, I'm deeply sorry. It was a mistake because y'all know I'm not perfect. I'm authentic but I'm a human and what I didn't want to do is make anyone feel less than what they are…I hope we can move on."

And move on they did!

When it was confirmed that she would be the new co-host of the fourth hour, many fans couldn't contain their excitement. As for Hoda, her enthusiasm couldn't be ignored.

"Oh, come on y'all! You know she's perfect. First, she can drink you under the table. Besides that, Jenna is an amazing person," Hoda shared on E! News' Daily Pop. "She's got crazy depth. She's smart, she's funny and for a person who has grown up in the spotlight her whole life, she's so weirdly down to earth."


The morning show veteran added, "I looked over to her for a second and she looked like a little girl. Her eyes were so bright. She looked like a seven-year-old on Christmas morning. She almost started crying and I thought to myself, 'She's perfect for so many reasons because she's just excited and fresh and happy.' We can't wait to get started with her."

Hoda isn't alone. Tamron Hall, Amy Robach, Norah O'Donnell and many more expressed their excitement at Jenna's big announcement. Even Today's famous fans couldn't help but weigh in.

"Congrats!! Can't wait to visit you both," Reese Witherspoon wrote in the comments. Mindy Kaling added, "U r killing the game girl."

And perhaps the cherry on top is the fact that Kathie Lee is her biggest supporter and cheerleader from the sidelines.

"You keep trusting your instincts and you are going to sit next to the best person in the world who will always have your back because she has your heart," Kathie Lee explained. "She does and it's going to be fun."

Today with Hoda and Jenna airs weekdays at 10 a.m. only on NBC.

(E! and NBC are part of the NBCUniversal family)

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