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Kathie Lee Back in the Game

Five years after tearfully bidding farewell to morning talk to pursue a singing and acting career, Kathie Lee Gifford will return to television Sept. 12 to cover Broadway and conduct interviews for Paramount’s syndicated entertainment-magazine show, The Insider.

Gifford, who signed a one-year deal with the show, will be a special correspondent. The addition of the popular former co-host of Live WithRegis and Kathie Lee is intended to “up the ante further in the competitive arena” of entertainment and celebrity news, Linda Bell Blue, executive producer of both The Insider and Entertainment Tonight, tells B&C.

Bell Blue says she chose Gifford, a familiar face on Broadway, because a number of major film stars, including Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, are working in theater. Says Bell Blue, “It is the perfect time for us to cover this.”

“Timeless Icon”

The Insider, which is one of only two freshmen syndicated shows returning for a second season, has a 2.6 average audience rating through July 31, up from its 2.4 debut last September. It finishes ahead of veterans Access Hollywood and Extra, thanks in part to airing in tandem with the top-rated magazine ET (5.0 rating season-to-date) in such markets as New York and Los Angeles.

Referring to Gifford as a “timeless icon of television,” Bell Blue says she will be the ideal fit for The Insider’s core audience, women 25-54. Bell Blue notes that Gifford’s fan base is in sync with the demographics for both The Insider and ET. Gifford “was on TV for years and had a huge imprint with female viewers,” she says. “She became habitual viewing for viewers, and I think they miss seeing her.”

While Bell Blue praises the work of The Insider’s anchors, Lara Spencer and Pat O’Brien, she says her job is to evolve and grow the show: “I think that bringing in [Gifford] is an excellent way to do that.”

Having exited the top-rated morning talk show she hosted with Regis Philbin in July 2000 after 15 years on the air, Gifford agreed to return to TV on a regular basis after being pursued by Bell Blue.

Gifford says, “This is the first thing that worked for me both professionally and personally.”

Rehearsals for Gifford’s second Broadway play, Hurricane Amy, start Sept. 6, and Gifford says Bell Blue has been “very accommodating” in agreeing to work around her schedule; the season premiere of The Insider is slated for Sept. 12.

Gifford started her Insider duties last week, taping a three-part interview with red-carpet style maven (and Insider co-correspondent) Steven Cojocaru. Bell Blue expects her to appear on the show twice a week, but Gifford hints that it could be more or less than that, depending on her schedule.

“We don’t know how it will work out; it’s sort of an experiment,” she says. “We will find our rhythm as we go along. I might find that I’m having such a good time that I may want to do more. … If they’re happy and I’m happy at the end of the year, we’ll talk.”

A Comfortable Interviewer

Having filled in occasionally over the past several years as a guest host on CNN’s Larry King Live and Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, she is comfortable wearing an interviewer’s hat.

“I have been interviewed a lot,” says Gifford, who has endured the slings and arrows of the tabloid press. “I have empathy for the person who is being interviewed and written about with all kinds of misperceptions and misconceptions and flat-out lies. So I feel for them, I feel their pain. I know what that is like.”