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Kathie Lee Gifford returns to morning TV

 / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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What could possibly lure Kathie Lee Gifford — a former daytime television personality for 15 years — back to an morning co-hosting gig with the TODAY show?

“Hoda,” Gifford said, referring to TODAY co-host Hoda Kotb. “One word — Hoda.”

TODAY show executive producer Jim Bell announced Monday that Gifford would join the fourth hour of the program as co-host, beginning April 7.

“I am excited to welcome Kathie Lee to TODAY,” said Bell. “She is a morning television icon and is on a short list of personalities known by her first name alone. We are looking forward to her signature warmth and sense of humor in the fourth hour. Her addition to the TODAY family makes us stronger than ever, and she and Hoda will continue the TODAY tradition of smart, topical and fun morning television.”

Kotb, who was named anchor of the TODAY show’s fourth hour when it launched in September, moved readers the following month with her tale of battling and beating breast cancer.

Gifford, who spoke to last week while she and Kotb were having their makeup and hair done for a photo shoot at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, said Kotb approached her late last year about appearing on a segment.

Gifford agreed, she said, and the two immediately hit it off during a meal at the Rainbow Room.

“She and I went to lunch and got kicked out of the restaurant,” she said. “It was a four-hour lunch.”

“We laugh at all the same things,” Kotb said.

Gifford joined Kotb, Ann Curry and Natalie Morales as a fourth hour guest host last year on Nov. 14 during which she discussed topics as wide-ranging as the Stacy Peterson disappearance, making your own holiday cards and the phenomenon of “cougars.”

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Gifford, best known as former co-host of “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” alongside Regis Philbin — which she co-hosted from 1985 to 2000 — has racked up 11 Emmy nominations in her career.

Of joining TODAY, a broadcast institution since 1952, Gifford says, laughing: “The thing is we’re not going to reinvent the wheel — I was there when the wheel was invented.”

“It’s going to be a new experience because this time it’s with a girlfriend,” she said of co-hosting with an all-female group. “Regis was like a bad little brother all those years.”

Gifford quickly corrects herself, adding with a laugh: “A much older brother. He looks good for his age!”

In addition to her status as a morning TV veteran, Gifford has a singing career and has also starred in Broadway musicals, including writing the musicals, “Saving Aimee” and “Under the Bridge.” She has worked as an advocate for children’s charities, including lending her daughter and son’s names to New York City shelters babies born with HIV or a congenital crack cocaine addiction, Cassidy’s Place and Cody House.

She lives in Greenwich, Conn. With her husband of 21 years, sports commentator Frank Gifford, and their children Cody, 18, and Cassidy, 14.

Asked what she would bring to the TODAY show, Gifford didn’t miss a beat.

“You’ve got to be a team player,” she said. “And you’ve got to have a big heart.”

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