Hoda Kotb replaces ousted Matt Lauer on Today, and makes history in the process

Kotb (above) took over on Nov 29, after Lauer was dismissed for “inappropriate sexual behaviour".
Kotb (above) took over on Nov 29, after Lauer was dismissed for “inappropriate sexual behaviour". PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) -After taking over hosting duties on Today following Matt Lauer's ouster amid allegations of sexual misconduct, Hoda Kotb has officially been named the new co-anchor of the popular NBC morning show.

"This has to be the most popular decision NBC News has ever made," Today co-host Savannah Guthrie said on air on Tuesday (Jan 2). "Hoda, you are a partner and a friend and a sister, and I'm so happy to be doing this."

NBC News chairman Andy Lack announced the news, which means that, for the first time, Today is led by female hosts.

"I'm pinching myself," Kotb said to Guthrie on air. "There's no one I'd rather be sitting next to in 2018 than you."

Lauer's departure came amid an avalanche of reports on sexual misconduct allegations against high-profile men in entertainment and media. Kotb took over the co-anchoring duties on Nov 29, hours after Lack had dismissed Lauer for "inappropriate sexual behaviour."

At the time, the NBC News chairman said in a memo that the company had received a "detailed complaint" that represented "a clear violation of our company's standards."

"While it is the first complaint about his behaviour in the over 20 years he's been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident," Lack added.

Hours later, Variety published a report detailing allegations by multiple women that Lauer had sexually harassed them in the workplace.

"Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterised, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed," the former TV host said in a statement.

Suddenly, NBC News was without its high-profile co-anchor.

But Kotb and Guthrie have shown that Today didn't need Lauer for ratings. Today beat rival Good Morning America on ABC for weeks after his firing.

"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," Lack wrote in his Tuesday memo, CNN reported.

"They have an undeniable connection with each other and most importantly, with viewers, a hallmark of Today."

Kotb's journalistic credentials run deep. She started out as a broadcast journalist at local news stations in Tucson, Arizona, to Washington before making her way to New Orleans and Fort Myers, Florida. She joined NBC News in 1998 as a Dateline correspondent and spent three years as the network's White House correspondent. She is also NBC News' chief legal correspondent.

Since 2008, Kotb has hosted the 10am hour of Today alongside Kathie Lee Gifford, which she will continue to do.

With news of Kotb's promotion comes questions about gender pay parity: Will she be compensated similarly as Lauer, who reportedly had a four-year, US$20 million (S$26 million) contract?

These are incredibly profitable hours for TV networks, and there is a lot of pressure to present a dynamic hosting team with plenty of on-air chemistry. Today, in particular, attempts to project the image that its on-air personalities are essentially a family.

Today won't be the first morning show with female co-anchors; Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts co-hosted Good Morning America from 2006 to 2009. George Stephanopoulos replaced Sawyer after her departure. CBS This Morning still hasn't named a permanent replacement for Charlie Rose, who was fired in November over allegations of sexual misconduct detailed in a Washington Post report. (Rose apologised for "inappropriate behaviour" but said that not "all of these allegations are accurate.") Other CBS News staffers have filled in, joining hosts Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell.

But, by and large, men have been dominant presences on morning shows. That's even as their audiences are dominated by women. Perhaps as the conversation about sexism and representation continues to build steam, more and more women will see themselves reflected on their TV screens.