Kathie Lee Gifford announced Tuesday that she will depart “Today” after co-anchoring the fourth hour of NBC’s flagship morning show since 2008.
In a teary announcement during the 10 a.m. hour, Gifford explained that she had planned to be on the show for only one year, but “something happened — I fell in love” with her co-anchor, Hoda Kotb, and they became fast friends.
“It’s an exciting time for me, and I’m thrilled about all the projects that are coming up, but it’s also hard, because the reason I stayed longer than a year is because I love everybody here so much,” Gifford said on-air.
In a memo sent to staff Tuesday morning, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim wrote that Gifford has been busy with film, music and book projects, and “she’s decided to focus her attention full-time on those other creative endeavors.”
“When we first launched this incredible hour, no one could have predicted the lightning (or rather, wine) in a bottle that is Hoda & Kathie Lee,” Oppenheim wrote.
Gifford became a household name during her 15 years on ABC’s “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” before she made the jump to NBC in 2008 to join Kotb in hosting the 10 a.m. block.
Her departure marks the end of an era for the morning show, particularly for its rollicking and boozy fourth hour.
The drinks began after Chelsea Handler came on to promote her show “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” and subsequent guests asked where their drinks were.
“And then all of a sudden, it just happened,” Kotb told Seth Meyers earlier this year. “I thought it was illegal to drink on the air. I thought it was some FCC violation, but no.”
On Tuesday, Gifford and Kotb shared stories of their friendship on air. Kotb — who kept her fourth-hour duties even after she replaced Matt Lauer nearly a year ago as the co-anchor for the rest of “Today” — became very emotional as she described how she met her husband, thanks in part to her role on “Today.”
“The minute you stepped into my life with both feet, everything changed,” Kotb said. “I thought about the day you chose me, and that’s how it started … everything good in my life has happened since you came.”
Gifford had plenty of love to share, too, telling Kotb that “you don’t share that kind of life together and not be changed forever by it.”
The news on Tuesday adds to the other uncertainty “Today” is grappling with, as “Megyn Kelly Today” was canceled in October in the wake of comments she made about blackface. “Today” anchors took over her 9 a.m. slot.
Hold off on your final goodbyes for now, though. Gifford will remain with the show until April 7, her 11th anniversary of hosting with Kotb. Oppenheim wrote to staff that “we will have much more to share” about the future of the fourth hour, which will still include Kotb.
“I know somebody wonderful will be sitting in this seat afterwards,” Gifford said. “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. And if they come from outside the family, they will soon become family, because you all treat everybody that way.”