"There are enough channels around where people can get a heavy dose of breaking and bad news," says Kotb. "Our show is a place to forget your troubles."
"We don't take ourselves seriously," adds Gifford. "If we're having fun, our audience has fun. Fun is contagious."
Case in point: Gifford and Kotb are poolside. It's noon now, and, as happens so often on their show, the pinot grigio is flowing. Gifford points at the bottle and shrugs: "It was Jesus' first miracle."
She and Kotb didn't start out drinking on the air, but a few years back, when comedian Chelsea Handler appeared to promote her book Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, the hostesses served her an array of cocktails. A week later actress Brooke Shields came as a guest and asked for a beverage. "Everybody started wanting their cocktails, and we couldn't be rude," Gifford says.
So now the hostesses launch almost every live show, at 10 a.m., with wineglasses in hand. The wine, says Kotb, "is a prop as much as anything, but it invites you to the party."
Earlier this year tabloid rumors swirled that the party was getting tense — that there was friction between Gifford and Kotb, and that Kotb was looking around for a new gig. While the two pals admit that they sometimes can get on each other's nerves, they insist that, unlike the stereotypes of cat-fighting professional women, their relationship is remarkably noncompetitive and trusting.
For instance, at the pool, perhaps emboldened by the fruit of the vine, Gifford and Kotb agree to put on swimsuits and take a dip for the photographer. Kotb squeals when the water hits her waistline, and Gifford jokes, "Does anyone mind if I pee?" While nothing seems off-limits for their comedic material, Gifford and Kotb, who recently broke up with a long-term boyfriend, agree that there is a line neither will cross.
"We know the vulnerable points," Gifford says. "You don't go for the cheap laugh."
Next page: Life behind-the-scenes. »