Hoda Kotb is officially Today‘s new co-anchor.
It’s been a time of controversy and change at NBC’s beloved Today show, but Kotb and Savannah Guthrie aren’t about to let turmoil dent their morning cheer. In an exclusive interview for this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday, both are bracingly upbeat — and these women really (really) like each other.
“When you click with someone, man, woman, it doesn’t matter. If it works, it works,” Kotb says of their synergy. “We’re sort of like sisters, and everybody wants a sister.”
That friendship has carried Today through the rockiest period in its 67-year history. On Nov. 29, the show’s star Matt Lauer — a friend of both women — was fired for alleged inappropriate sexual behavior. (Multiple sources describe the cause for termination as an affair that violated NBC’s terms of employment, but in the wake of the news, allegations that included lewd behavior and sexual assault also surfaced.)
Guthrie, 46, and Kotb, 53, broke the news on-air.
“That morning was so hard, but Hoda and I were in it together,” Guthrie says. “We are family, and families do go through hard times, and when that happens in good families, you just get closer.”
Kotb continued to fill in for Lauer in the days following his dismissal, and the network liked what what it saw.
”We’re very fortunate to have someone like Hoda who brings immense talent and tremendous positive energy, and then on top of that happens to have wonderful chemistry with Savannah,” says NBC News Group chairman Andy Lack. “It makes this a decision that everyone can embrace and feel terrific about.”
Adds Guthrie: “It was such a shock to wake up one day and not have Matt, but it was the most natural and comforting thing in the world to have Hoda right there. No one wanted that to stop.”
Just before the holidays, NBC execs offered the job to Kotb, who will continue hosting the show’s 10 o’clock hour alongside Kathie Lee Gifford for the time being.
“Weirdly it doesn’t feel like the headline because we’ve worked together for a long time,” Kotb says.
“We’re grateful to NBC for not having some old fashioned notion about what should be,” Guthrie adds. “I think they looked at it and said, ‘Why would you change this? This is working, it feels good.’”
And Kotb says she wasn’t even thinking about whether she’d permanently fill Lauer’s chair — she was focused on making sure the show went on.
“We were just trying to make it through those days together,” she says. “Sometimes when you go through something with someone, you see something special. I think that’s what happened. I didn’t think about whether it would be me.”
Adds Guthrie: “There’s so much of this that was unexpected. But what’s really cool about this is just getting to get up everyday and do the things you love to do with your really good friend who you trust and love and enjoy. Our biggest problem is that we actually talk about other things all throughout the show. Sometimes we’re like, ‘Okay, pay attention. Do your jobs ladies!’ ”
As for Lauer?
“We know he’s working on his family, we know that for sure. Of course our hearts go out to the brave women who have told their stories,” Guthrie says. “What we are experiencing and processing now is how to honor and remain a true friend to someone even in spite of learning things that are deeply disturbing. And we are trying to navigate that path with integrity.”