The Women of Today: Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Megyn Kelly vs. the Rumor Mill

The show has hardly missed a beat since Matt Lauer's ouster, but all eyes are on the ladies for any hint of turmoil

By Natalie Finn Mar 08, 2018 12:51 AMTags
Watch: Hoda Kotb Talks Successful Pairing With Savannah on "Today"

Maybe it's the lack of sleep. Maybe it's the whiplash-inducing need to go from seriousness to smiles and back again. Maybe it's just the high-stakes maneuvering behind the scenes.

For whatever reason, morning shows are hotbeds of drama. Or at least hotbeds for stories about drama, whether or not, as The View is well aware, there's any such drama percolating.

Less than four months after Matt Lauer was fired over allegations of sexual misconduct, Today has already eased into a sweet spot, the pairing of Savannah Guthrie with Hoda Kotb having been just what the cultural climate ordered. Ratings went up, the pair spent two weeks in Pyeongchang covering the Winter Olympics, and the kick-ass lady power continues to radiate from the screen.

The only Lauer cameos lately have been when retro scenes from Today have shown up in the background of movies such as I, Tonya, set in the 1990s, and Lady Bird, which takes place in the early '00s.

But while many would say that 2018 has been the year of Hoda, her promotion having been announced Jan. 2, (and that 2017 probably belonged to her too) Kotb declines to take any credit for boosting Today's fortunes with her ascension to co-anchor.

"The Today show really is this institution, and we all sit in the chair for like five minutes," she said in an interview with E! News this week while discussing her new book I've Loved You Since Forever, which is in stores now. "Think about over time all the people you watched—Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, all those—Katie and everybody over the years. I feel like you keep the seat warm for awhile and you move on."

But while the group hasn't missed a beat on camera, the truth is that Lauer warmed that seat for 20 years—and though the Today structure has indeed proved stronger than any one personality, Kotb's pairing with Guthrie was widely hailed as a desperately needed antidote to historically male dominance in media and entertainment, which is finally in line for an overhaul after, basically, forever. (Libby Leist also replaced Don Nash as executive producer of Today in January.)

"I think this happens to be about kind of a moment in time, you know," Kotb says. "I think Savannah is incredible and I think that our pairing just happened to work, at the right time. It just did and it happens to coincide with the #MeToo movement and all that, but I also think...that just coincided with it. It wasn't the life plan. And so I think maybe people just sort of wanted something like we have together."

Nathan Congleton/NBC

But while there's no question that viewers are digging the ladies during Today's first two hours (and hour four, as Hoda generally continues to partner with Kathie Lee Gifford as before), Megyn Kelly continues to be the odd woman out according to the headlines.  

In January Page Six, despite an NBC News source saying there was "zero truth" to the story, reported that Kelly was incensed when the network sent Katie Couric to cover the Olympics Opening Ceremony (a role filled by Lauer for years) and never even offered her the gig. 

At the time, NBC News flatly told Fox News, which had been chronicling Kelly's supposed issues with the higher-ups and vice-versa: "Not a single story you've written about the internal workings of NBC News has been accurate, and neither is this one."

Tapping former Today talent isn't even a new move, actually, as NBC brought Meredith Vieira in to broadcast the Opening Ceremony with Lauer and Kotb at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Vieira left Today in 2011.

But Kelly's the new girl in town nonetheless, and with that has come a period of adjustment. Also in January, even before the Olympics "controversy," Jane Fonda had revived old tensions by pointedly referencing her September conversation with Kelly that turned contentious when the host asked the Oscar winner about plastic surgery.

When back on Today talking to Kotb and Guthrie, the Grace and Frankie actress' co-star Lily Tomlin made a joke about face lifts and Fonda quipped, "Who are you, Megyn Kelly?"

A few days later at Sundance, when asked about their exchange, which occurred during Kelly's first week on the job, Fonda told Variety"I was stunned. It was so inappropriate. It showed that she's not that good an interviewer."

Kelly decided it was time to defend herself, devoting 10 minutes of Megyn Kelly Today (aka Today show hour No. 3) to explaining why Fonda shouldn't be so quick to judge. The move received mixed reviews, with some feeling Fonda had been unfair to Kelly, so good for her, and others thinking Kelly hit below the belt in invoking Fonda's anti-Vietnam War activism, which in the 1970s was interpreted as being disparaging to American troops and earned her the nickname of "Hanoi Jane."

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The day after Kelly's pointed rebuke of Fonda, a pre-taped segment aired during Megyn Kelly Today, prompting speculation that there was a connection between the Fonda bit and her not being live. 

A source told E! News that there was no there there. Rather, they had shot the segment immediately following Kelly's live show the previous day, and it had been a conscious decision to pre-tape the package because it was about sex trafficking, an especially serious, sensitive subject. Moreover, they had taped shows before, so there was nothing suspicious about it.

At the end of that long, long January, Kelly—who would go on to hold down the fort in New York while Kotb, Guthrie and Al Roker were in Pyeongchang—joined NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt in Washington, D.C., for the network's coverage of the president's first State of the Union address.

And as Today's fortunes have risen, so have Kelly's. By the end of January her hour was averaging 2.9 million viewers—its highest viewership yet—and last week ended with Today winning the coveted ages-25-to-54 demo for the 114th straight week, according to AdWeek's TV NewserToday also enjoyed its first February sweeps win since 2012, averaging 4.47 million total viewers and 1.64 million in the demo, beating Good Morning America and CBS This Morning.

Nathan Congleton/NBC

Meanwhile, we've heard that Guthrie, Kotb and Kelly all get along just fine—and just as importantly, Kelly's colleagues have publicly supported her since day one.

"I think she's got the eyes of the world upon her and I think everybody can relate to how nerve-wracking that is," Guthrie told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live in September, after the first round of Fonda headlines had been made. "But I think she's awesome, I think the show looks fantastic. I mean, it looks beautiful. And we're thrilled to have her. She's doing a lot—she has a lot of different things she can do and I think she's awesome."

Nathan Congleton/NBC

And without fail, no matter what's happening in the headlines, the ladies (and Al Roker) continue to gather every morning in the Today show plaza at 30 Rock, to chat with the crowd and each other and get their audience's day started on the right foot. It's the Today show way, whoever is warming the seats.

(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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