Jenna Bush Hager will succeed Kathie Lee Gifford in the fourth hour of “Today,” NBC News confirmed Tuesday, setting up a new partnership with Hoda Kotb that executives no doubt hope will prove as enduring as the one it replaces.
“Jenna joined ‘Today’ nearly ten years ago and she quickly became a fixture in our family. Her compassion and curiosity come through in all of her stories, along with her Texas-sized sense of humor. Jenna instantly connects with everyone she meets, whether they are guests on our show or fans on the Plaza,” said Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News, in a memo to staffers. “While it’s bittersweet to say goodbye to Kathie Lee, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to make some changes at 10 a.m. This is just the first of many! The show is evolving, and we will have additional announcements to share with you in the coming months. In the meantime, please join me in wishing Jenna a big congratulations.”
Hager’s move to the show has been expected for some time. NBC News announced in December that Gifford, who has been with the program since 2008, planned to leave the program in April to pursue outside projects. Hager, the daughter of former U.S. president George W. Bush and granddaughter of former president George H.W. Bush, has co-hosted with Kotb frequently in recent months, but will join the program officially once Gifford departs.
Gifford’s departure will mark the end of a pairing that has blossomed into a morning favorite. The last hour of “Today” is the loosest hour in NBC’s morning lineup. The program boasts no weather segments, and no newsreader. But the hosts drink wine (Gifford’s product) on set and talk freely throughout the hour.
When Gifford and Kotb were first matched together in 2008, it drew attention. Gifford, known for her many years hosting ABC’s syndicated “Live” with Regis Philbin, replaced other anchors who were decidedly more button-down in demeanor: Natalie Morale and Ann Curry. Gifford would often poke fun at Kotb, a veteran of NBC News’ “Dateline.” “Saturday Night Live” spoofed the show. But something happened: the duo’s banter and rambling conversation drew fans. NBC began to offer repeats of the show to local stations to run overnight, and Gifford and Kotb became cult favorites.
Hager initially joined NBC News when she was 27 years old and still working as a teacher in Baltimore. Jim Bell, a longtime NBC executive who at the time was overseeing “Today,” began to think of Hager as a potential correspondent after she appeared on the program to promote a recent book she had written. The former First Daughter has not focused overmuch on politics during her time at NBC News, instead taking part in interesting ventures like trying out for a Broadway play or accompanying former “Today” newsreader Natalie Morales to hang off a cliff in Rio or ride on a roller coaster.
NBC News’ move will cap off a period of transition for the “Today” franchise, which has placed new anchors in each of its main segments over the past eighteen months.
Kotb picked up additional anchoring duties at 7 a.m. alongside Savannah Guthrie at the start of 2018 after veteran anchor Matt Lauer was ousted from the role over accusations of untoward behavior. The format of the 9 a.m. hour, meanwhile, has changed twice since the fall of 2017 when Megyn Kelly launched a new program with a live studio audience. Since that program was cancelled in the fall, NBC News has returned a more traditional approach in the timeslot, with a program hosted by Craig Melvin, Sheinelle Jones, Dylan Dreyer and Al Roker.