NEW YORK – NBC made history Tuesday with the appointment of Hoda Kotb as co-anchor of “Today,” giving the morning show the first all-female team in its 65-year history.
Kotb, 53, will replace Matt Lauer, who was fired Nov. 28, putting her alongside co-anchor Savannah Guthrie.
The landmark decision comes at a time when NBC News and other media organizations are under a microscope for their treatment of women in the workplace. Kotb took over for Lauer after he was dismissed over allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior with a female employee.
The groundbreaking pairing was noted by NBC News elder statesman Tom Brokaw, a former “Today” co-anchor himself, who wrote on Twitter: “savannah and hoda – historic and so deserved. one more step in what i believe will (be) the hallmark of the 21st century. women (have) full parity.”
Only one other time has a major network morning show been fronted by two women. Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts co-anchored ABC’s “Good Morning America” from 2006 to 2009.
Kotb is a popular figure inside “Today” and her ebullient presence has helped heal a staff shaken by the sudden loss of Lauer who had been co-anchor since 1997 and the biggest star at NBC News.
Kotb has become a fan favorite since co-hosting the freewheeling 10 a.m. hour of the program with daytime TV legend Kathie Lee Gifford since 2008. Viewers have watched her successfully battle breast cancer and adopt an infant child during her run on the program, where cast members often share the milestones and challenges in their personal lives.
In recent years, Kotb began joining Guthrie and Lauer at the anchor desk in the program’s second half-hour.
Kotb became a leading choice to replace Lauer after stepping in for him Nov. 29 and providing a smooth transition. During her fill-in stint, “Today” has topped ABC’s “Good Morning America” in the Nielsen ratings among total viewers, after finishing second through most of 2017. The stable ratings performance likely encouraged NBC News executives to keep the team in place.
“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,” NBC News Chairman Andy Lack wrote in a memo sent to the staff before the start of Tuesday’s program. “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. It’s a tribute to her wide range and her innate curiosity.”
Born in Norman, Oklahoma, to parents of Egyptian descent, Kotb graduated from Virginia Tech before launching a career in local TV. After stints in Fort Myers, Florida, and New Orleans, she joined NBC News as a correspondent for “Dateline” in 1998.
In addition to “Today,” she has also served as co-host of NBC’s coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting.
Kotb’s appointment is also a symbolic step for NBC News, which is conducting an internal review of sexual harassment within the division in light of Lauer’s behavior, which had allegedly been ongoing while unbeknownst to upper management. Having two women at the front of the news division’s most important and profitable program is likely to be perceived as a progressive step toward improving its image.
“I think Hoda was a big rising star no matter what,” said Neal Shapiro, a former NBC News president who first hired Kotb as a correspondent in 1998. “The circumstances have propelled it to happen faster.”
The typical network morning show tableau has a man and a woman as co-anchors. “CBS This Morning” is being co-anchored by Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King while the network searches for a replacement for Charlie Rose, who was fired in November after reports that he sexually harassed women who worked at his now-canceled PBS talk show.
Kotb’s arrival at the anchor desk is significant because of the legacy of “Today,” network’s TV first morning program that remains a lucrative franchise for NBC. The 7 to 9 a.m. hours bring in estimated $500 million in ad revenue.
“Today” launched in 1952, but it took more than 20 years for a woman to have a title equal to a leading man on the program. Women contributors were called “Today Girls” in the early years. Barbara Walters was the program’s biggest star through the 1960s and early ‘70s, but did not get a title equal to her male host until 1974. It had been put in her contract that she would get the title if the male host, Frank McGee, left the program. She got it when McGee died from an illness he hid from management.
Women have served as co-hosts or co-anchors on “Today” ever since, but always with a man. Shapiro said a major unforeseen event such as losing Lauer is required to alter long-standing patterns.
“Morning TV is like an aircraft carrier in that it turns very slowly,” he said. “It takes big moments to make changes happen.”
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