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Kathie Lee Gifford will leave Today after more than 10 years co-hosting the fourth hour of the NBC morning show, the latest upheaval in a broader restructuring of the show following the cancellation of Megyn Kelly Today in late October.
NBC News chief Noah Oppenheim made the announcement Tuesday morning in a memo to staff, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “Kathie Lee is generously staying with us through the show’s next anniversary, April 7, 2019. We will have much more to share before then about our plans for that hour, which will, of course, continue to include Hoda [Kotb],” he said.
Oppenheim called Gifford a “legend,” pointing to her “enduring and endearing talents in morning television.”
Gifford began co-hosting the 10 a.m. hour of the Today show — known for its celebrity guests and lively, wine-filled conversations — with Kotb in 2008.
“In 2008, I joined the Today show family intending to spend one year,” Gifford said in a statement. “But something unexpected happened along the way: I fell in love with a beautiful, talented, extraordinary Egyptian goddess named Hoda, and an amazing group of individuals who work tirelessly and joyfully at their jobs, many of them starting at midnight, creating an unprecedented four hours of live television.”
She added: “I stayed year after year making a million memories with people I will never forget. I leave Today with a grateful heart but I’m truly excited for this new creative season in my life. Many thanks to all the wonderful people who made the years fly by.”
Gifford also addressed her impending exit on Tuesday’s episode of the Today show. “It’s an exciting time for me and I’m thrilled about all the projects that are coming up, but it’s also hard,” she said, fighting back tears. “The reason I stayed longer than a year is because I love everybody here so much. I’ve been in this business for 120 years and never worked with a more beautiful group of people who just give, give, give every day for four hours of live television every day, five days a week. We have fun and we laugh and we support one another. We know each other’s kids’ names, we know when someone is having a colonoscopy — we know everything! We do life together, and nobody more so than my Hoda.”
During her emotional announcement, Gifford discussed her potential successor on the show. “I have my idea of who might be absolutely wonderful, but there’s a great pool of talent and beauty and heart right around here, right within our own family,” she said. “And, if they come from outside the family, they will soon become family, because you all treat everybody that way.”
Gifford’s exit is not unexpected; she has a full plate that includes songwriting and performing. She also is an author, and missed several shows while on a book tour earlier this year for The Rock, The Road and The Rabbi, her memoir about faith.
The broader Today show franchise is also dealing with the expected departure of Kelly, who had her 9 a.m. show canceled following her controversial comments on blackface.
With Gifford’s departure, NBC News management will be retooling two hours of the venerable morning franchise. The 9 a.m. hour is still a work in progress. The show in January will move out of Studio 6A at 30 Rock, where it was filmed in front of a live audience, and will originate from the flagship Studio 1A. The move could save as much as $50 million annually in production costs. NBC executives have yet to name permanent anchors for the hour.
Before coming aboard Today, Gifford hosted Live With Regis and Kathie Lee with Regis Philbin for more than a decade. On Tuesday, Gifford compared her on-air split from Kotb to her relationship with Philbin. “When I left Regis it was hard, but I’m closer to him now than we were after 15 years together. You don’t share that kind of life together and not be changed forever by it.”
“The minute you stepped into my life with both feet, everything changed,” Kotb replied through tears, as her producers elevated a tissue box over their heads. “You chose me, and that’s how it started. Everything good that has happened in my life has happened since you came.”
Watch Gifford open up about her Today exit in the video, below.
Jeremy Barr and Marisa Guthrie contributed to this report.
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