Willie Geist Celebrates Sunday Today 's 5-Year Anniversary: 'It Was Not a Sure Thing'

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Jodi Guglielmi
·3 min read
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Peter Kramer/NBC News

Five years since becoming the solo anchor of Sunday Today, Willie Geist is still counting his blessings.

This month, Geist, 45, is celebrating the five-year anniversary of helming the Sunday edition of the NBC morning show. "It's an amazing thing," he tells PEOPLE. "And it was not a sure thing."

"When you start a new adventure like this, you never quite know how it's going to happen," he continues. "NBC took a chance on us and gave us the space to let us grow and find our audience. To hang in with it has been a huge gift to me."

On Sunday Today, the host provides conversational coverage of the day's news, along with in-depth profiles on what is shaping our culture. In his "Sunday Sitdowns," Geist chats with some of the biggest names in Hollywood to learn the stories behind their success. The guest list includes John Krasinski, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Mindy Kaling, Kelly Clarkson, Chadwick Boseman and Melissa McCarthy, to name a few.

"We really wanted these conversations to feel natural," Geist says of his celebrity chats. "We are able to broaden the conversations to talk about [the guest's] lives and careers — not just what's happening at the moment. We wanted to strip away everything that's artificial about a TV interview."

And it's that very formula that Geist credits the show's success to. "I think it clicks with the audience, because they feel like they are seeing the true person during the conversation," he says. "Everyone has their guard down."

RELATED: Willie Geist Reveals Why Jennifer Lopez Is the Celebrity Whose Interview 'Impressed' Him the Most

But after five years and countless A-list sit-downs, there is still one interview that stands out above the rest for Geist.

"The first big moment for me was two years in, when Bill Murray agreed to do our show," he says. "I thought we had a good show up to that point. We were fighting and scrapping and we were getting good guests, but the validation of Bill Murray, who doesn't do a lot of interviews and is very selective about the ones he does, was very validating."

"Bill Murray took us to the next level," he adds.

Tyler Essary/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

And looking forward, Geist says the show has no plan of slowing down.

"It's an honor that the audience lets us be part of their Sunday morning. There's something special about Sunday morning. There's no question about it. So, we try to make it worth it," he says. "We only want to get bigger and better."

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So who is still on Geist's "bigger and better" dream guest list? Jay-Z.

"I love the man. He's been a hero of mine," he says. "I love his music and his story. He's become such an incredible cultural force. And hey, if Beyoncé wants to drop by, too, we wouldn't say no!"

Sunday Today with Willie Geist airs Sundays at 8 a.m. ET on NBC. Full versions of his celebrity interviews can be found on the show's podcast, Sunday Sitdown.