How Hoda & Kathie Lee Are Changing Lives for the Better

By A.J. Katz 

Before the ball drops, NBC says so long to 2016 with a prime time special hosted once again by Today’s Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. The two-hour Toast to 2016 airs Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET.

A slew of celebrities including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Bublé, Simone Biles and Dana Carvey chew on the most talked-about stories of the year, from the election to the Olympics, to dabbing and cupping. Remember cupping? I bet you do, even if you wish you didn’t.

TVNewser caught up with the hosts of the 4th hour of the Today show as they taped the New Year’s Eve special.

TVNewser: 2016 has been a negative year in a lot of ways, but there have been some great moments. What is your favorite?

Hoda: The Olympics in Rio. I was able to watch people’s lives change. There were times when one athlete would fall down, another would pick them up. Great moments like that. Another great Olympics moment was when the great Olympian Simone Biles met Zac Efron, who she had a crush on. It’s great watching young girls squeal like little girls! A lot of these Olympians are kids, but sometimes we forget that because they’re such well-trained athletes and they seem robotic!

Kathie Lee: There were a couple personal, not professional highlights for me this year. My son got his master’s degree from Oxford. My daughter just finished her 8th movie. There’s an old saying: “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” It’s those kinds of things at this point in my life that are great. My late husband (Frank Gifford) was the first person in his family to ever even go to high school, much less college. The world has changed in so many ways, and I know my husband is so thrilled with them right now.

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TVNewser: What is your favorite Today segment in 2016?

Kathie Lee: People don’t really talk about these that often, but I work hard on all of our story segments, where people who write in to us can get a song written about them. I see what that segment does for the people we do it for, and how we’re able to change their lives. It means more work for us, but it’s always worth it.

Hoda: The songs are really are moving and the people who visit us will never forget their experience. The songs resonate not just with the people on TV, but the people who are watching who think “That’s me, that’s written for me.”

Kathie Lee: I just looked last night on Twitter and there was a young girl who we wrote a song for because she had almost died. It’s called ‘Still Alive.’ Not only did we change her life because she came on Today, but she now goes around the nation doing her one woman act and always closes her show with that song.

Hoda: Ambush Makeover is another great segment where we watch people’s lives get transformed. But in general, whenever a guest comes on our show, there’s a degree of weird magic that seems to happen. It’s something unique or something you didn’t see coming. It doesn’t even matter who it is, if they’re honest and they’re here to play, it’ll be fun. Good interviews are about moments, and I feel like we get moment after moment after moment. It may have been a guest who’s a star, or it may have been a cooking segment, but whatever happened, there was something that was unique this year.

Kathie Lee: Honestly, sometimes we’ll look at a show and we’ll think: “Well this is a nothing show,” but what it turns out to be is a fantastic show because of what the individual might bring to the table. And a lot of the time the guest isn’t even a celebrity. That’s the great thing about morning TV, it’s all about those unexpected moments that you can’t plan for.

TVNewser: Talk about your relationship with one another.

Kathie Lee: Hoda and I are still pinching ourselves. When I first joined her on Today (in 2008), I expected to stay for just 1 year because I didn’t really want to come back to television. But the friendship that has developed between this beautiful woman and I is just so special to me. I cherish it more and more each day.

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Hoda: We have done 4 of these New Year’s Eve specials, and have been on the air together for 9 years. Some people go their whole lives and don’t get this kind of friendship. We have have had it for 9 years. It started off great and got even better. We have had our share of tough experiences in our lives the past few years and have stuck by each other.

TVNewser: Your favorite TV show for 2016 is…?

Hoda: This is Us. And Nashville. If you want to feel something, just watch one episode of This is Us. You will laugh or cry or see yourself or a friend in the story. There’s a reason it was the only broadcast network show that has been nominated for a Golden Globe. It’s different, and it feels so authentic and real.

Kathie Lee: The Crown (Netflix). It’s a really fascinating show, and very well done. I was also glued to political programming this year. I was fascinated by it on every level. You had to be fascinated by it just because it was so different, and the election was truly something we had never seen or experienced in our lifetimes.

TVNewser: Do you two have any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

Kathie Lee: I’m determined to get more sleep this year.

Hoda: I’m going to get more organized this year. I say that a lot, but this year it’s even more important because I just moved in with my boyfriend, and he’s very organized. This year it’s really going to happen!

Full disclosure: The father of this reporter was an executive producer on The Regis & Kathie Lee Show in the late 1980s. We hadn’t seen each other since I was a toddler, so it was a particularly fun chat.

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