After making a big change in late 2021, Natalie Morales is thriving in 2022 with a new role.
Morales, 49, is now four months into her moderating gig at CBS' The Talk with co-hosts Amanda Kloots, Jerry O'Connell, Sheryl Underwood and Akbar Gbajabiamila. The anchor was a staple at NBC where she spent 22 years, most notably the Today show and Access.
On Oct. 1, 2021, her decision to leave NBC was made public, and 10 days later she had her first official day on The Talk. In November, Morales read a farewell letter during an on-air appearance at the Today studio in New York. When she was done, she was crying with Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker, Craig Melvin and Carson Daly.
Though viewers may have been surprised to learn of Morales' exit, she told PEOPLE in December that it was time for something different.
"I knew The Talk could really showcase my personality, but also that I knew I would have great chemistry with the other co-hosts, which I had at the Today show, of course, but living here in Los Angeles — this is the big game in town," said Morales, who had been the West Coast anchor and correspondent of Today and Dateline.
"I had been on this show as a guest before, and every time I came, I just really loved the experience of being here. I loved the audience interaction and how involved they are with the hosts. It's funny because from the minute I walked out here, it was like I felt like I'm at home," she said.
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Recalling how she had "zero hesitation" saying yes to The Talk, Morales said she knew was the woman for the job, especially as moderator.
"It's what I did a lot of on the third hour of the Today show," she explained. "They were looking at my journalism skills and somebody who can direct the conversation. I can also give facts when necessary and also just keep everything on time. That is something that, as somebody has done live television for 22 years, I'm very aware of the clock counting down and hitting our commercial breaks. The producers all knew that, okay, she can handle direction."
Joining the CBS lineup was actually years in the making, according to Morales.
"I guess it was like going back two years before the [COVID-19] pandemic, this was a possibility and I had said to my agent at the time, 'I really would love to see if I could find a way to come to The Talk, also do some CBS News and work with them in that way.' At that time, there was a full cast here, there wasn't a lot of room for movement yet. Then, of course, things change," she said.
"I was in Tokyo at the Olympics, covering the Olympics for NBC. My agent called me and said, 'Because we had put it out there, I guess they knew I was interested. They came back and said they really would love to have you, if you're interested.' He's like, 'I'm going to try to work this out so that we can make this happen if you really want to do this.' And I said, 'Let's go for it,' " Morales said.
"It was like a dream come true," she added.
Looking back at years of manifesting her "dream," Morales said there's a part of her that is still surprised by the new direction in her career.
"I didn't believe that it would really happen. Part of me had always been like, I'm happy to be at the Today show forever. Whatever they want me to do, I'll do," she said. "But I also knew I needed a change. I had been there a long time and being out here in Los Angeles, I wasn't getting to do as many of the things that I wanted to do."
These days, Morales is finding gratification and purpose.
"I knew that this was going to be a great opportunity to really revamp the show and bring it back to what it was meant to be at the beginning," she said of The Talk. "This is a good, positive place. We're having fun, smart conversations that hopefully engage the audience at home."
And her costar Sheryl Underwood agrees.
"Natalie is such a good fit for us as the moderator," Underwood, who's been at The Talk for 10 years, told PEOPLE. "She has a great sense of humor, she's fun, she's quick on her feet. Natalie being our moderator is essentially being the captain of our ship. She's the Captain Stubing of The Love Boat on The Talk."
The Talk airs weekdays on CBS, check local listings.