Natalie Morales Named Co-Host of 'Access Hollywood' and 'Access Hollywood Live'

Natalie Morales GETTY - H 2016

The 'Today' show veteran will continue to appear on the morning show, while Billy Bush is expected to join the 9 a.m. hour this summer.

Today show veteran Natalie Morales will become co-host of Access Hollywood and Access Hollywood Live while continuing to appear on Today as the NBC morning show’s West Coast correspondent. The announcement came Wednesday in a memo to staff from Today senior vp Noah Oppenheim

Morales has been spending an increasing amount of time in Los Angeles — about a week each month — covering entertainment industry stories for Today. And Access Hollywood, the nationally syndicated entertainment program produced by NBCUniversal, is losing co-host Billy Bush, who is expected to join Today this summer. 

Morales has been with the Today show since 2006, when she was named news anchor of the flagship 7-9 a.m. broadcast and co-host of the 9 a.m. hour. NBC News will not name a replacement for Morales’ newsreader role, which is seen as increasingly antiquated as Today has shifted to a newsier approach overall under NBC News president Deborah Turness and Oppenheim. And NBC News executives stressed that Morales will continue to appear across Today’s first three hours and also on primetime newsmagazine Dateline.

The announcement begins to make official the anticipated revamp of Today’s third hour, which has continued to lag as the flagship broadcast co-anchored by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie has regained the lead over ABC’s Good Morning America in the critical 25-54 demographic this season.

It’s why ABC recently announced its move to make Michael Strahan a full-time member of the GMA cast beginning in September. GMA first snapped Today’s unprecedented morning news winning streak in 2012, and it remains the most-watched morning show. But its ratings among viewers 25-54 and women 25-54 have eroded by double digits this season. And Strahan is seen as a step toward arresting the ratings decline.

NBC News meanwhile will soon get an enormous ratings shot in the arm with the Aug. 5 kickoff of 17 days of the Rio Summer Olympics. Every two years, the Today show broadcasts from the Olympic venue, giving the morning show a huge advantage over its competitors and a platform to introduce new talent.

A formal announcement about Bush is expected at NBC's upfront presentation on May 16, while he is expected to join the Today cast in Rio. 

Oppenheim's full memo:

I’m writing with exciting news — this summer, Natalie Morales will move to LA to become TODAY’s West Coast Anchor and a host of Access Hollywood and Access Hollywood Live. She’ll also continue to play a prominent role on Dateline.

As you all know, Natalie has already been spending a lot of time in California, reporting live from special events like the Oscars, Golden Globes and Latin American Music Awards, conducting celebrity interviews and set visits, and spearheading two big series spotlighting women who are leaders in Silicon Valley and Hollywood. With our show’s increasing focus on West Coast stories, it became clear to me that having a permanent anchor presence in LA would be of enormous value.

Additionally, when NBCU Domestic TV Distribution heard that a talent of Natalie’s caliber and entertainment experience might soon be LA-based, they immediately jumped at the opportunity to have her host Access Hollywood and Access Hollywood Live.

It’s an exciting time for all of us at TODAY — we recently marked 8 consecutive months as the #1 morning show in the key demo, and the ratings momentum continues to build on our side. From this summer’s Republican and Democratic Conventions, to the Rio Olympics, to the historic election this fall, the coming months will be an extraordinary time for the country and the show.

Please join me in congratulating Natalie on her family’s big move and her exciting new roles. We’re so thrilled that she’ll continue to be part of the TODAY family for years to come.