‘Today’ facing even more uncertainty with key host leaving

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With Kathie Lee Gifford announcing her departure from the fourth hour of “Today” — the venerable morning brand is once again in the crosshairs.

  • Earlier this year, the brand took at hit with the cancellation of “Megyn Kelly Today” after the namesake former Fox News host made controversial comments about blackface on air.
  • The show, which lasted a little over a year, had already been tarnishing the “Today” brand — registering significant ratings losses as Kelly struggled to find her way in the world of morning TV.
  • In addition, data showed “Megyn Kelly Today,” which airs directly before the fourth hour of “Today,” in many markets, was hurting the fourth hour of “Today” ratings.
  • That hour is hosted by Gifford along with Hoda Kotb.
  • Gifford’s departure announcement comes just over a year after the high profile firing of longtime main “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer for alleged sexual misconduct.
  • After Lauer was fired, Kotb filled in most days and was officially named co-anchor of the first two hours of “Today” in January 2018.
  • She also retained her co-hosting gig during the fourth hour.
  • Kotb also has appeared on what NBC calls “Today Third Hour,” the replacement for “Megyn Kelly Today.”
  • After Lauer’s departure and Kotb taking over the anchor desk, ratings have remained relatively stable.

With Gifford departing in April, NBC has some significant programming decisions to make.

  • Kotb could leave the fourth hour, allowing her to focus on her main co-anchor duties of “Today,” which are known to be grueling.
  • Much of Kotb’s success in the fourth hour can be attributed to her on air chemistry with Gifford, so with Gifford gone, it might make sense to transition Kotb out completely.
  • Another wildcard is what NBC will do with the third hour of “Today,” which, lacking any permanent host announcements, has been hosted by a mix of NBC personalities, notably Al Roker, Willie Geist, Carson Daly and Jenna Bush Hager.
  • The format of “Today Third Hour” has settled into a roundtable with NBC News personalities and occasional guests discussing the news — a format that was also being used heavily on “Megyn Kelly Today” before its cancellation.
  • It’s worth noting that this format was largely what “Today’s Take,” the program “Megyn Kelly” replaced, used.
  • The third hour has been airing from the old “Megyn Kelly Today” set in Studio 6A, but NBC announced it will move the programming back to Studio 1A come the new year.
  • Ratings for the timeslot have improved since Kelly’s cancellation, a possible indication that NBC can have success in the hour — and possibly the fourth — with one or more of the current interim co-hosts.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated with Matt Lauer was fired. The story has been updated with correct information.