The connection Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford share on screen isn’t just for show—it’s a genuine love and friendship that transcends off camera as well. Their back- and-forth banter, candid conversations, and ability to talk about anything and everything is what these two are all about. With them, what you see is what you get.
As co-hosts of the fourth hour of NBC’s “Today Show” for the past eight years, Kotb and Gi ord have shared their lives with both the audience and each other. Not only has a friendship evolved, the two have taken morning TV by storm, turning it into an hour of laughter and over-the-top fun.
BELLA NYC sat down with the fabulous and funny duo for our holiday issue to talk about the show, their friendship, and life…
There’s such a great chemistry between you two; what do you love most about the show and working with one another?
KLG: I had a hit show for 15 years and I knew what it was like but I never dreamed I could find somebody else in this world I would love being with the way I loved being with Regis. And then we’d have a hit show at 10 o’clock in the morning—that’s even harder—and we do.
HK: Everything! That hour flies. Sometimes when the chat starts and then when it’s over you cannot believe how fast it went and that this is work.
Kathie, were you comfortable slipping back into the co- host role?
KLG: Yes! I’ve done tons of hosting and movies and records and you learn to show up and be what they need you to be. My dad used to say, ‘Surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than you are, [and] you look good.’ I’ve done that twice!
While other shows feature coffee mugs at the table, you have wine. How did morning cocktails come about?
KLG: That was not our fault, that was Chelsea Handler (laughs). She had a new book out, “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” and so our producer thought it would be funny to have a whole bunch of different vodka cocktails for her.
The segment came and went and we thought that was it. Until Brooke Shields showed up and said, “Where’s my drink?” And then Joel McHale showed up with his own bottle of Hennessy, and from there the producers started putting the wine out in front as our shtick. We thought for sure someone would take it away, but nobody did!
HK: They didn’t know, and when they found out it was too late (laughs)!
I’VE SPENT MOST OF MY CAREER REPORTING ON THINGS THAT ARE WRONG IN THE WORLD, AND I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT WE GET TO GIVE PEOPLE A BREAK. OUR JOB IS TO GIVE PEOPLE A PLACE TO LAUGH AND FEEL JOYFUL. I DO NOT REGRET FOR ONE SECOND MAKING THAT TURN.
Who has been your favorite guest so far?
KLG: Oh my gosh, we have loved so many. We loved having Dame Judi Dench, we love Helen Mirren. These women you think might be imposing, they get here, they want a glass of wine, and they have a very hearty, bodied laugh. It’s those people who surprise you.
HK: I love the interviews where we can’t stop laughing; with a Joel McHale or a Ricky Gervais we are literally peeing. There’s something about guests like them that literally have you doubled over.
KLG: I have Depends, so I’m fine!
You’ve both had an extensive career thus far. What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?
KLG: Be eager to do whatever’s required. You have to be authentic if you’re on camera, and if you want a long career you have to be someone people want to spend time with. I was blessed to have a different kind of career much earlier as a live performer and I’ve performed all over the world. You learn to read an audience and to trust your gut. Trust your instincts— they’re there for a reason; they’re a gift.
HK: If you treat everyone well from the beginning, your career ends up in a good place. How you treat people through your life follows you wherever you go. I remember I would always show up early and try to stay late because you never knew when someone was going to need you. You just don’t realize what happens when you show up.
Hoda, you covered hard news for a long time; what is it about this job that feels right for you?
HK: We get to bring joy to people. I’ve spent most of my career reporting on things that are wrong in the world, and I cannot believe that we get to give people a break. Our job is to give people a place to laugh and feel joyful. I do not regret for one second making that turn.
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
KLG: I’ve had different careers so I would say as a singer, singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1995. Getting my show to Broadway a couple of years ago, too—it didn’t last very long but it was a 13-year effort. So many of my own dreams for my career came true and I never thought I’d live the kind of life I have. I’ve been incredibly blessed. There are still things I want to do but what I mostly get excited about now are my kids’ careers. When my daughter books a movie or my son finishes
a screenplay and he’s getting his master’s degree from Oxford University, those are “pinch me” moments.
HK: There are three; the first is getting my very first job in Greenville, Mississippi because it totally changed the path of my life. Stan Sandroni [the news director at WXVT-TV at the time] didn’t say what the other 26 people before him said. His words were, “Hoda, I like what I see.” That will forever be one of the biggest moments of my life.
Going from local news to the network, that was a shocker. I had to fight to get it; it was a long shot. I still remember dialing my mom’s number, telling her I got the job at “Dateline NBC,” and I could picture her standing in her cubicle at the Library of Congress and telling everyone I was a network correspondent for NBC. I heard all those ladies applauding and I remember that moment. And the third most amazing part of my career is working with Kath.
Who has been your biggest influence?
KLG: Two people who really encouraged me in my writing career and to whom I will be forever grateful are Dolly Parton and Barry Manilow. Both were incredibly supportive and helpful to me in my early years of songwriting.
HK: I would say Angela Hill who was the main anchor at WWL-TV in New Orleans. She epitomized what I thought a newswoman was. I remember watching her and thinking, ‘If you could be one-tenth of her then you will have made it in this business.’ To this day when I think of all the great interviewers I’ve ever met, I think of Angela.
Throughout the years you’ve worked closely with many charities/organizations. Which are you closely affiliated with today and why are they most important to you?
KLG: I’d say the ones that are in my children’s names, “Cody’s House” and “Cassidy’s Place” here in New York City, which we started back in the ‘90s because there was a terrible AIDS and crack addiction pandemic here; little babies were just falling through the cracks in the system. To this day these two organizations are still taking care of more than 200 children.
HK: “Groove With Me”–it’s a small charity in Spanish Harlem for young girls between the ages of 5 and their teenage years. It’s a dance studio that offers classes and gives these kids a place to go; they have a purpose, they have discipline, they’re joyful, and they love it. It’s everything to me. Whenever I give a speech I donate to them because they’re my favorite.
How do you define beauty?
HK: Lipstick and Spanx although that doesn’t sound so good after Kathie, so I’ll also say happiness!
Photography: Philip Fischetti
Stylists: Mindy Gura and Paula Orlan