Kathie Lee Returns to Hoda and is Toast of ‘Today’ Yet Again

Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. (NBC)

Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. (NBC)

As they say in business, everyone’s replaceable. Especially in the business of show. Back when Johnny Carson needed a rest from his “Tonight Show” duties, Joan Rivers would capably spell him as host. During the “Regis and Kathie Lee” days, even Kathie Lee Gifford herself benefitted from occasional super-subbing by Regis Philbin’s wife, Joy. But when it comes to the inseparable pairing of KLG and her fourth-hour “Today” co-conspirator Hoda Kotb, the oft-harmonizing duo may as well perform INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart” as their morning show’s theme song. (And not only because one lyrics promises to “make wine out of your tears.”)

While Kathie Lee was on the West Coast, celebrating the Seattle run of her musical, “Saving Aimee”, audiences suffered through a roll call of innumerable Kardashians by Hoda’s side and tolerated the likes of amiable Ben Folds. They all acquitted themselves just fine, and Hoda has plenty of charisma to manage 60 minutes as the center of attention, but that boozy, gal-pal chemistry between she and Kathie Lee was palpable in its absence from the moment they reunited this morning, even if they welcomed her back with relatively scant deviation from the normal format—though Kathie was quick to cheekily gush over her makeup and hair staff, without whom she says she “looked ugly.”

Watch Hoda And Kathie Lee Reunite:

[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/Today/96422/2151031141/Welcome-Back%2C-Kathie-Lee!/embed 580 476]

To wit, during a segment about parents improving their sex lives, Hoda danced around the issue gently with affirmations about how working moms can “lose that feeling of being sensual.” Kathie, eager to interject, summarized that, “When you have vomit all over you, it’s hard to feel sexy.” Who wouldn’t cheers to that?

The real difference between K & H as a team versus either coping with a rotation of bench-warmers is the resulting unpredictable silliness—sober or a bit tipsy. Whereas Kim Kardashian deer-eyed her way through every segment with the camera-savvy and articulation of someone who hasn’t put their lives on display for half a decade, Kathie Lee is the old pro who’s campaigning for membership in the “kiss my ass” club. (Although it was disappointing to witness her hold back during a recap of Kim’s E!-broadcast wedding, both out of presumed corporate solidarity and because she was an invited guest at the affair.) At peak form, she’s the devil on Hoda’s shoulder, and Hoda is the Felix Ungar to her Oscar Madison. A good episode of “Kathie and Hoda” feels like an unscripted off-Broadway play, which is something Kathie knows plenty about.

Yes, hearing Mrs. Frank Gifford belt out a proverbial tune every morning can be aural irritation (and today’s return didn’t get more than five minutes in without a Beatles sing-along), and watching Hoda try and keep up with the loose cannon to her right can be downright uncomfortable. But they know exactly what they’re doing, and it’s a finely tuned act that’s equal measures self-awareness and rolling with the punches. It also continues to be the most unexpectedly entertaining hour of morning network television, so we’ll put aside our reservations about a very suspect-looking “Saving Aimee” and merely toast to the resuscitation of “Kathie and Hoda” as we know it.

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