Kathie Lee Gifford to join 'Today'


UPDATED 5:39 p.m. PT March 31

WASHINGTON -- Kathie Lee Gifford will make her return to TV on the fourth hour of NBC's "Today."

The announcement, which had been expected after several weeks of discussion, was made Monday during the first hour of NBC News' top-rated morning show. She starts April 7.

Regis Philbin's former partner will co-host the fourth hour -- which is cleared in most of the country -- with NBC News correspondent Hoda Kotb.

Ann Curry will return to her primary duties as news anchor of "Today" during its first two hours and then co-host the 9 a.m. hour. Natalie Morales, who also worked the 10 a.m. hour, will co-host the third hour with Curry and Al Roker. Morales is "Today's" national correspondent.

Gifford attracted NBC's attention late last year when she sat in for a few segments during the fourth hour. Executive producer Jim Bell said her guest spot was impressive and showed off what she had learned and achieved in her 15 years on "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee" and elsewhere.

"Those reflexes are still there and wonderfully intact," Bell said.

He said that with Morales and Curry often out on assignment -- Curry spent Monday with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, for instance -- it meant that NBC was having to dip into its bench for co-hosts. That wasn't doing much for the show's consistency.

Gifford will have no expanded role on "Today," though, at least initially. She mostly will be in the fourth hour.

"The same way that when viewers tune in from 7 to 9 they know they're going to get Matt (Lauer) and Meredith (Vieira) and Ann and Al, when they turn on at 10 they know they're going to get Hoda and Kathie Lee," Bell said.

Gifford is no stranger to waking up early. In addition to "Live," she also has been a correspondent for "Good Morning America."