Love at first laugh
Gifford, an actress and singer who's best known for her 15-year stint as cohost of the ABC talk show Live With Regis and Kathie Lee, first met Kotb in 2007. At the time, Gifford was out of the limelight, writing a musical about 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and raising son Cody, now 22, and daughter Cassidy, 19, with her husband, sportscaster Frank Gifford, 82. (Check out page 6 for a photo of the kids today.)
Kotb, then a Dateline NBC correspondent who'd divorced that same year, had begun working on the fourth hour of the Today show with NBC newswomen Ann Curry and Natalie Morales, but the chemistry of the threesome wasn't working. "It was a bore," says Kotb. "It needed a spark plug."
"It needed trouble!" offers Gifford.
Enter Kathie Lee.
One day that fall, Kotb, who had never met Gifford, spotted her at a restaurant and had a brainstorm. She introduced herself and invited Gifford to make a guest appearance on the show as cohost. Gifford agreed. The day she guest-hosted with Kotb, sparks flew.
"She changed the room the minute she got there," Kotb recalls. "People were laughing."
But when Today show producers asked Gifford to consider cohosting permanently, she declined. She was happy with her life, and besides, she didn't think she could ever again match the chemistry she had with Regis Philbin.
"It's so hard to find magic the first time," Gifford says. "To think it could happen twice?"
Still, she agreed to discuss the proposition with Kotb over a meal, and the get-together caught them both by surprise. "I only knew the Dateline Hoda," Gifford explains, "but I had lunch with the happy hour Hoda. I loved her!"
Four hours into the conversation, Gifford told Kotb, "You're the kind of person I'd be friends with for the rest of my life."
In April 2008, the fourth hour of Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda launched. From the beginning, the idea was for the women to be loose, candid and lighthearted.
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