by Natalie Finn | Tue., Jan. 2, 2018 1:15 PM
The people have spoken, and NBC has listened.
On Tuesday Hoda Kotb was officially named the new permanent co-anchor of Today, a very welcome addition as a leading voice on the overall morning show landscape. (And this does not mean there's an empty glass next to Kathie Lee GiffordKotb says she'll continue to co-host the fourth hour of Today as well.)
Her easy chemistry with now veteran co-anchor Savannah Guthrie and overall popularity with fans made Kotb seem like the obvious choice for the role from the start (in November, when the position suddenly, shockingly became available), but until the announcements have been made, you never really know how these things are going to play out. After all, it's still considered a daring move, even in this day and age, to put two women at the helm of a broadcasting behemoth like Today, which has been on the air for 65 years and is NBC News' biggest moneymaker.
But today at least marks another important step into a future where that won't seem particularly daring.
Kotb's ascension to one of the most coveted jobs in all of television comes in the wake of Matt Lauer's firing after a colleague accused him of "inappropriate sexual behavior" in the workplace. NBC terminated Lauer's employment after 25 years at the network, 20 as anchor of Today, barely 24 hours after getting the report, which NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said represented "a clear violation of our company's standards."
Guthrie and Kotb announced the news together at the top of the 7 a.m. hour on Nov. 29. The eerie moment for the longtime NBC talent came a week after Norah O'Donnell and Gayle Kinghad to address their co-anchor Charlie Rose's suspension from CBS This Morning after a Washington Post article detailed numerous accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against the legendary newsman going back years behind the scenes of his eponymous PBS interview show. CBS News announced hours later that Rose had been fired.
At the time, Guthrie said she was "heartbroken" over what had transpired and Kotb agreed that it had been "a very tough morning" for both of them.
"I've known Matt for 15 years and I've loved him as a friend and a colleague," Kotb, who joined NBC News in 1998, said. "And again, just like you were saying, Savannah, it's hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know, who walks in this building every single day. We were both woken up with the news kind of pre-dawn. We're trying to process it and trying to make sense of it, and it'll take some time for that."
It took hardly any time, however, for folks to begin to wonder who would replace Lauer, and the network was obviously way ahead of the fans. There was no choice but to make exactly the right decision.
So in addition to being well-deserved, Kotb's promotion couldn't be a more timely response to one of the questions facing almost every industry at this moment regarding what they're doing to shake up the standard ways of doing business, in which a man is considered the given example of something and the woman is considered the female version of whatever the man has established as the norm (like "woman doctor" or "woman cop," or "woman anchor" and "woman CEO").
Following a dense wave of harassment, misconduct and assault allegations leveled against some of the most prominent men in entertainment, media and government (and beyond) over the last three months of 2017, the across-the-board demand for more women in leadership roles has grown exponentially in record time and the call for more female voices in positions of power is only getting louder.
"The fact that we're two women, it's not what caused this pairing to happen," Guthrie, who replaced Ann Curry as Lauer's co-anchor in 2012, told E! News this morning after the big announcement. "It just so happens that we're two women and this pairing really works. And the fact that it's meeting the moment seems just right in the context of where our culture is right now. It's an added bonus, and I love that—and I have to give credit where credit's due, to our bosses.
"You know, they didn't have some old-fashioned notion about what it should look like at the top of the Today show. They saw, Hoda's been on, we'd been doing the show together, we adore each other, the viewers love Hoda—for good reason—and they were responding, so why not? Why would you not keep it going?"
For the past 50 years Today has gone with the traditional dynamic of a male and female co-host playing off of each other (the show's first permanent woman co-host, Barbara Walters, having been the last of what were once called the "Today Girls"). At the end of the day, television is a business, so it'll take some time before Guthrie and Kotb's pairing can be authoritatively deemed successful or not, but the uptick in the ratings after Lauer was fired was a strong indicator that this is a duo that viewers wanted more of.
"It's fun," Kotb told E! News today, "to think of the young girls who will now look up and say to themselves, 'wow, that is totally normal. It's not unique."
Then it was only fitting that Flo Rida's "My House" started booming somewhere down the hallway, starting an impromptu Hoda-Savannah dance party.
And while the proverbial cheers for Kotb around TV sets all over the country today were just as loud as the squeals that greet the Today hosts every morning in the plaza at Rockefeller Center, we will not call her road to a top job on Today a fairy-tale journey or a Cinderella story.
Hoda Kotb worked damn hard to get here, she's put up with some major obstacles since joining NBC and proved herself a class act at every turn, and she has earned every bit of good fortune that's come her way.
The now 53-year-old star came to NBC News in 1998 after spending a decade as a local news correspondent and anchor in Illinois, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, bouncing around frequently as is common in the broadcast news business. She was working in New Orleans, her biggest market to date, when she got the call from NBC. She started off as a national news correspondent and contributor to Dateline, then in 2004 started co-hosting the syndicated show Your Total Health.
In 2007, just as she was scoring a dream job as co-host of the newly introduced fourth hour of Today with no-last-name-necessary morning show legend Kathie Lee, Kotb revealed that she had also been diagnosed with breast cancer. She could have chosen to keep that entirely under wraps, not wanting her illness to become what she was most identified with as she began her new role. But she ended up including viewers in her journey, using the opportunity to educate and spread awareness about prevention, cancer treatment and learning to adjust to a new normal, re-embracing your body and your life post-cancer.
Instead of just a new morning host, Kotb became an immediate member of the family, someone the audience rallied around and could relate to.
"This is one of those decisions that you struggle with, in terms of what to share and how much to share," Kotb said in a Today's Anchor Chat in October 2007. "So I really spoke for two reasons. Number one, it's breast cancer awareness month and I thought it would be a good time to talk about this. And number two, I recently met a guy on a plane, and he said words that I'll never forget. He told me: 'Don't hog your journey.' And when he said that, my eyes just opened wide. He told me that I could keep everything for myself, or I could use it to help people. So right then and there I told myself that when it's time, I'm going to do it. And I did."
Naturally, her experience altered her approach to life in the way that only staring down the worst possible outcome and making it through to the other side can do.
"My take-away, what I got from this whole ordeal, was the headline that 'You can't scare me.' That's what I took away," Kotb said. "It's such an exciting, liberating headline. If you survive it, that's what you get. And it also reminds you that your life has limits. It's to be valued and not wasted. I decided I'm not wasting one more minute. Suddenly your life gets clearer, and it weeds everything out. It just gives you clarity."
Happily she celebrated five years of being cancer-free in 2012 and marked 10 years in 2017.
"I decided to do [return to television] for one year," Gifford recalled while feting her partner in crime at the American Cancer Society's Mother of the Year luncheon in October. "But something happens when you're around Hoda Kotb, you not only get infected, then you fall in love. I fell absolutely, madly in love with this life force called Hoda, who just made me a better person."
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
As hosts of a generally more light-hearted, even more life-style and celeb-driven segment of Today, Gifford and Kotb became known for their cheery antics, the ever-present glasses of wine they liked to sip from long before the clock struck noon becoming fodder for parodies galore.
Kotb continued to show she was ready for prime (morning) time as a contributor to other areas of NBC News and a go-to fill-in when one of the lead Today anchors was absent. She also re-charmed the crowd that had already been in love with her for years when she introduced her adopted daughter Haley Joy to the world last February.
Understandably wanting to maintain her privacy, she only revealed what she was up to after all the i's were dotted and t's crossed before going on maternity leave. "I lived my life but in my journal every night I scribbled, 'Please God, if you can…'" Kotb recalled the process to E! News upon her return to Today in April.
In a Today segment about welcoming Haley Joy home, Kotb said, "You think that by a certain stage in your life, I've had every experience that I've had, and then all of a sudden she shows up. I felt like in my life, I've had joy beyond what I could have imagined, but this is beyond a dream. Like, you had your dreams—and then this. I never believed in love at first sight until now."
Longtime boyfriend Joel Schiffman has been behind her every step of the way—including today, with Kotb telling E! News that he has been the "greatest life partner" and entirely supportive about her taking on her new role at Today.
"It is brand new and it's something..." she considered her words. "Look, it's a big deal. And people, when they tune into the Today show, they want to learn what's going on, but they also want to feel good, and I feel that responsibility. It's not lost on me for one second."
"My schedule changes a little," Kotb continued, "but I think all we can do is be ourselves, and that's it. We're going to give you the news straight, we're going to try to make it easier for you to make it through the day—and we're going to have a little fun along the way...They say, when you're exactly who you are, you're going to be OK, so that's who we are."
And the millions of people who've been spending part of their mornings with Hoda Kotb for the past 10 years wouldn't have it any other way.
(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)
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