Hoda Kotb, the longtime co-host of the fourth hour of the NBC morning franchise “Today,” will replace Matt Lauer as co-anchor of the program’s opening hours, the network said Tuesday.
Savannah Guthrie, the show’s other anchor, announced the news of Kotb’s appointment during Tuesday’s broadcast.
“This has to be the most popular decision NBC News has ever made, and I am so thrilled,” Guthrie said, after a round of applause from the crew on set.
Kotb, 53, responded, “I am pinching myself.”
This is the first time that two women will be the main hosts of “Today,” which first went on the air in 1952 and is the network’s most profitable franchise. The show has an overwhelmingly female audience, and the feel-good nature of much of its content and the convivial byplay between its personalities give the impression that the cast is an on-air family. Lauer had been called “America’s dad” by some before his dismissal.
Kotb had replaced Lauer on an interim basis since he was fired in November over allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior with a subordinate. Lauer is among the most high-profile names to have been ousted in a national reckoning over sexual harassment in the workplace, along with Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.
With the move, Kotb becomes one of the most vital figures at NBC News. In 2016, the first two hours of “Today” brought in more than $500 million of revenue, while the fourth hour had revenue of $68 million, according to Kantar Media. Kotb will remain co-host of the 10 a.m. Eastern time hour of “Today” with Kathie Lee Gifford, NBC announced Tuesday. Megyn Kelly will be the sole host of the 9 a.m. hour.
There was some concern among NBC executives in November that viewers could flee the morning program after the firing of Lauer, who had been with the show for 20 years.
But Kotb, a longtime fan favorite for her freewheeling segments with Gifford, has provided more than a steadying hand, and may even have given the show a boost. NBC has defeated its ABC rival “Good Morning America” every week since Lauer was removed, something it had not done for four consecutive weeks in more than five years.
The “Today” lead has narrowed — the program averaged around 4.4 million viewers the week before Christmas, about 54,000 viewers more than “GMA” — and there is some uncertainty whether the lead is sustainable. Further, all three morning shows experienced rating drops last year.
A surprise boon from an emergency host isn’t new at NBC. When Brian Williams was suspended for six months in 2015 from his evening newscast after he was caught embellishing stories about a Middle East reporting assignment, Lester Holt replaced him and the show’s viewership figures were strong. Holt became the permanent replacement later that year.
Likewise, the departures of Charlie Rose from “CBS This Morning” and O’Reilly from Fox News after public allegations of sexual misconduct have done little to disrupt either network. Fox News is still No. 1 among cable news networks in prime time, and the ratings for “CBS This Morning” have held steady while Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell continue in Rose’s absence. (CBS has not yet hired a replacement.)
Kotb cut her teeth as a local reporter and anchor, including a six-year stint for the CBS affiliate in New Orleans. She joined NBC in 1998 as a correspondent for “Dateline.”
“Over the past several weeks, Hoda has seamlessly stepped into the co-anchor role alongside Savannah, and the two have quickly hit the ground running,” said Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News, in an early morning memo to staff Tuesday. “They have an undeniable connection with each other and, most importantly, with viewers, a hallmark of ‘Today.’ Hoda is, in a word, remarkable. She has the rare ability to share authentic and heartfelt moments in even the most difficult news circumstances.”
Though NBC wanted to alert its viewers first, the decision had been made for at least a week and one magazine interview had been arranged. Right at 7 a.m., as the on-air announcement was being made, People magazine released its cover for next week, featuring a smiling Kotb and Guthrie under the somewhat incongruous headline “Our hearts were broken.” (That referred to Lauer.) Both co-anchors were quoted by the magazine, discussing their excitement about the new NBC morning hour.
On Tuesday, Kotb also revealed that she had gotten a text from Lauer.
“He texted me, and he said congratulations and some really nice words, and it meant the world when I saw the text pop up,” Kotb told “Entertainment Tonight.” “My heart just went like, you know, it meant the world to see that.”