Kathie Lee Gifford says she is ‘going to come back as often and I can’ to visit her colleagues on NBC; says it feels ‘right’ to leave the ‘Today’ show
It’s officially last call for Kathie Lee Gifford.
Her time as co-host of the fourth hour of “Today,” “Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda,” has come to a close after nearly 11 years.
At the top of the show, Gifford’s morning show partner, Hoda Kotb, introduced Flo Rida, who performed “Sweet sensation” and modified his song “My House,” changing it to “Kathie Lee’s House.”
Gifford hugged some members of the audience, including her 29-year-old son, Cody.
Gifford said she felt “great” and reflected on why the show has worked: because they “have fun and we have a friendship and it’s real and we have a great love and affection and respect for our audience.
“We know you guys are sick of bad news by the time you turn our show on in the morning,” she added.
When Gifford asked her partner why the show has worked, Kotb said, “I think it’s because of you,” pointing out there’s a commonality between the success of their show and “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,” which Gifford hosted with Regis Philbin from 1985 to 2000.
Philbin popped up in a recorded message, talking about the wonderful times the two shared.
“Kathie Lee you want to know the best part of my life — my TV life — was in the in the 15 years I spent with you,” he said. “We stayed friends through the entire game, and it was a lot of fun. Where you are right now, I know you’re going to be moving on to a great new career making movies, and since I’ve seen the first one, I know you’re gonna be a great success.”
He added: “I want you to know how I will always remember the great times that we had working together and how you are as a person.”
Of course Gifford and Kotb celebrated with a drink, dubbed the farewell fizz made with champagne, which was appropriate to pop after they gave the entire studio audience a free cruise from Carnival.
The morning also included games like a trivia showdown hosted by John Cena. Everyone’s favorite blue eyeglass model Al Roker lead a game of “The Masked Audience,” where mystery guests were in costume like Fox’s “The Masked Singer.”
Gifford was quick to guess Dean Cain’s identity, dressed as a fox. The chicken, actor Ryan Eggold, proved more difficult to solve.
Barry Manilow flew from Las Vegas to surprise Gifford, though he wore no costume. He performed “Can’t Smile Without You,” which Gifford joined him for.
Kotb, teased the farewell show in the 7 o’clock hour. “It’s gonna be full of surprises and music and… there will be a lot of wine flowin’.”
“And the tears,” Kotb’s “Today” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie said. “I can’t take it this week. Every other minute, I’m crying.”
“I know,” Kotb said. “I feel like everyone’s on empty, but I think it’s gonna be a beautiful last day for her.”
“Today” also revisited Kotb and Gifford’s first day on the job.
“We really don’t know one another very well,” Gifford said of their debut. “And, I had a good feeling about you, obviously.”
“We had this great, long lunch and sort of sealed the deal,” she added. “If you can go to the ladies room with somebody and cry… and bond, you know you have a good future together.”
Early Friday on social media Kotb, shared an optimistic quote: “Sunsets are proof that endings can be beautiful too!”
Gifford spoke with USA TODAY of her departure last week, explaining she wanted to focus on movies.
“It’s not that I wanted to leave the ‘Today’ show,” she said. “I just had to leave if I wanted to actually fulfill lifetime dreams I have that I’m running out of time for.”
Gifford has been at Hoda Kotb’s side for nearly 11 years, a decade longer than she’d planned. She said she “came kicking and screaming” to the morning show she revealed she’d be leaving in December. Her late husband, football player turned sports commentator Frank Gifford, persuaded her to give it a year.
“By that time I’d fallen in love with Hoda, and a couple of years in I was in love with everybody that I worked with there,” Gifford said. “Nicest group of people I’ve ever, ever worked with.”
For her second morning show exit, Gifford predicted she wouldn’t be crying hysterically.
“I certainly won’t bawl like a baby,” she said. “I’ve been in this business too long, and it’s not like I’m dying, and it’s not like I’m never gonna see these lovely people ever again. I’m leaving one particular job and one particular building for something that I’ve been wanting to do my whole life, and I have so much to look forward to. So it’s not a sad thing for me.”
At the time of the interview, Gifford said she only knew one thing of her farewell: that her son, Cody who resides in Los Angeles, would be there.
Gifford was emotional when she revealed her plans to exit last year on-air.
“I want to thank everyone who has watched us all these years as well because we started out as a nothing burger and we were outside on the plaza and the wind was blowing and the cards were flying and it was a disaster,” Gifford recalled.
NBC announced Jenna Bush Hager would be Gifford’s replacement in late February.
But this is not the end of the road for Gifford and Kotb’s friendship. Gifford told USA TODAY after their final show, the pair (and others) plan to head to Gifford’s new Nashville home for “a girls’ weekend.”
“(Kotb’s) just a joyful, joyful person, and she’s been a dream co-host,” Gifford said, “and literally become one of my dearest friends, and she will be, as Regis still is, until the day I die.”
Thursday, Gifford shared in an Instagram post, “A little part of me will always be with my @TodayShow family in NYC ❤️”
Contributing: Leora Arnowitz
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