'Toast to 2015' Producers, Hosts Talk New Elements of NBC's Year-in-Review Special, Embracing Party Atmosphere

Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb share what they're looking forward to in 2016 while celebrity commentators reveal their guilty pleasures from the past year.
Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford during 'A Toast to 2015'

NBC's annual year-in-review primetime special returns Thursday night, but this year, the Toast to 2015 team was really ready to party.

"I think the first year we did this, we probably had a little more serious content and news content, which of course is [the Dateline NBC team that produces the special's] inclination, because that's what we do most of the year," executive producer Liz Cole tells The Hollywood Reporter of how the show's approach has evolved over the past few years. "I think each year we just embrace the night a little bit more and go with New Year's Eve. It's New Year's Eve, it's fun, it's Hoda [Kotb] and Kathie Lee [Gifford] and we really want to give people a way to kick off the night and get into a party frame of mind."

The format of stars commenting on the buzziest subjects and moments from the past year hasn't changed, and Today co-hosts Gifford and Kotb are back to emcee the two-hour primetime party.

Both hosts said they have fun doing the show year after year, with Kotb adding, “We get to put on a ball gown, we get a good blow out, we get good makeup, and this year there are a lot of people joining the party who are fantastic. We should have made it a dating thing, because there were a lot of cute singles at our party!”

While there was no planned matchmaking, there was some impromptu dancing during the pre-taped party, which viewers will see at the top of the show and sprinkled throughout.

"It was completely spontaneous," Cole said of the dancing. "We were changing locations and Hoda said, 'Who's got some music?' and they put it on and she got everybody moving."

In terms of scouting the talent to look back on the past 12 months, Cole and Co. first turned to the NBCUniversal family, bringing in more members of the Today team, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, sportscaster Bob Costas, Bravo's Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel and Melissa Rivers, co-host of E!'s Fashion Police. But there are a number of new faces on this year's special, including The Voice judge Blake Shelton, Blindspot star Jaimie Alexander and Telenovela's Eva Longoria.

And corporate loyalty didn't stop the NBC show from touching on big movies and TV shows released by NBCUniversal's competitors (i.e., Disney's Star Wars: The Force Awakens and HBO's Game of Thrones).

"I think the way in which NBCUniversal appears in the program is those are the people we talked to for interviews — that's where we start, because it's an NBC production and we did interviews with people in the NBC family," says Cole. "But I think as far as movies and films, we include everything that's big and everything that anyone is going to talk about. We talk about Jurassic World, but Star Wars is in there, too. We want the show to be as good as possible, and that means really embracing everything that was hot this year."

Beyond movies, music, TV, fashion and big moments in sports and politics, including Jimmy Fallon impersonating Donald Trump and Larry David taking on Bernie Sanders, the special also looks at live-TV bloopers, social-media sensations (Ariana Grande's donut-licking, Lenny Kravitz's onstage wardrobe mishap) and various phenomena that commentators are happy to say goodbye to (such as the blue-and-black/white-and-gold dress). Neil deGrasse Tyson also delves into the science behind the New York City subway scourge that is manspreading.

Senior broadcast producer Adam Gorfain says he particularly enjoyed looking back at some of the year's biggest viral videos and recalling pranks, including one that Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie were the victims of and the duo's plan for revenge.

"We love a good viral video. I think those videos are really fun to relive, and I think you just find yourself, even if you've seen them before, you're loving what our interviewees are saying about them," says Gorfain. "It is amazing when you look back at the year, and you say to yourself as you're watching this, 'Oh my gosh, what a year that was! Did that really happen?' And it did."

As 2016 promises more unforgettable moments, the Toast to 2015 team asked its celebrity commentators to share their "non-resolutions," or what they're not giving up next year.

"Katherine Heigl declared that she is absolutely not giving up cheese," Cole teased, adding that Kotb vowed not to give up wine.

As for what she's looking forward to in 2016, Kotb says she's eagerly awaiting new music from Shelton, Flo Rida and Andy Grammer.

Gifford, who Cole says resolved not to "sweat the small stuff in 2016," is especially excited about her daughter's 2016 films.

“My daughter has a couple movies coming out this year, so that’s always much more special to me than anyone else’s," says Gifford. "She’s got four movies coming out at different times during the year.”

A Toast to 2015 airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Thursday, Dec. 31. Watch a clip below, in which stars share their 2015 guilty pleasures.