Wakeup-show mainstay Kathie Lee Gifford will be stepping down from her "Today" gig in April, bringing an end to an 11-year run on NBC's flagship morning news program.
Gifford, who alongside Hoda Kotb has hosted the fourth hour of "Today" since 2008, made the announcement during this morning's show. Fortified with her trademark glass of white wine, the host broke the news to viewers in an emotionally charged six-minute segment.
Explaining that she had originally intended to stay with "Today" for just one year before she "fell in love" with Kotb and the rest of the cast and crew, Gifford said her departure would be bittersweet.
"It's an exciting time for me and I'm thrilled for all the projects that are coming up, but it's also hard," Gifford said. "The reason I stayed longer than a year is because I love everybody here so much."
NBC staffers were tipped to Gifford's decision earlier this morning in a memo issued by NBC News President Noah Oppenheim. "As we all know, Kathie Lee's plate has been overflowing lately with film, music and book projects, and after giving us 11 extraordinary years, she's decided to focus her attention full-time on those other creative endeavors," Oppenheim wrote. He went on to marvel at how fortunate "Today" was to have been able to capture the "lightning (or rather, wine) in a bottle that is 'Hoda & Kathie Lee.'"
Much of the segment was given over to the co-anchors' scrambling for Kleenex and reminiscing about their early days together on the show and how "Today" was instrumental in establishing their off-camera friendship. Gifford wrapped things up by alluding to her as-yet-unidentified successor.
"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."
Jenna Bush Hager, who has filled in for Gifford and regularly appears on the "Today" show's 9 a.m. panel, is said to be in the running to get a monogrammed wine glass of her own. In any event, fans of Gifford and Kotb will have plenty of time to come to terms with the departure, as Kathie Lee will be staying on through April 7, 2019.
Gifford, who made her bones as a morning show host back in 1985, when she started her 15-year run on the syndicated "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee," is the third on-air host to leave "Today" in the last year. Of course the circumstances of her taking leave of the show are far different than those that resulted in the ouster of Matt Lauer in November 2017 and the negotiated split with Megyn Kelly earlier this fall.
Despite all the internal upheavals that have indelibly changed the face of "Today," the show remains morning TV's biggest draw in the news demo. Last week marked the program's 154th consecutive win over ABC's "Good Morning America" among the adults 25-54 crowd and the seventh straight week it beat out its rival in total viewers.
The first two hours of "Today" are the real moneymakers, with ad sales revenues adding up to north of $500 million per year, according to Kantar Media estimates. The hour patrolled by Gifford and Kotb takes in somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million in marketing spend.