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Time Has Come 'Today’ for Kotb

When NBC News chief Steve Capus summoned Hoda Kotb to his office a little over a week ago (on the heels of torrential rain and flooding that ravaged New York City) it wasn’t simply to shoot the breeze about the weather. He wanted to give her some good news: She would be one of the co-hosts of the fourth hour of Today, along with Ann Curry and Natalie Morales.

Kotb has been a correspondent at Dateline since 1998. A self-described generalist, she’s covered stories in Baghdad, Burma and post-tsunami Southeast Asia.

Kotb talks to B&C’s Marisa Guthrie about balancing her gigs (the fourth hour of Today premieres Sept. 10), the state of morning news and her unique name.

Have you thought about what kind of stories you want to do atToday?

I think people want to be inspired. When I go to luncheons to speak, I look at all the women there and every woman needs something. Life’s hard. You’re tired. You’re dropping the kids off; you’re trying to make ends meet. It isn’t easy and sometimes I think you need something to lighten the load a little bit or to know that there are other people out there like you.

I also enjoy regular everyday average issues that women have—everything that has to do with marriage or divorce and healthcare. Just the basic stuff. And, I’m a huge fan of the makeover.

For a lot of women, there are so many different issues. Some of them have to do with what’s on the outside and some have to do with what’s on the inside. This show will tackle both of those.

After being seemingly immune from the audience erosion plaguing other news day-parts, the morning has started to see some fall off. Is that simply a product of the fractured TV environment?

I think that audiences do fracture a bit because there are so many choices in life now. I think that’s just the nature of this changing business.

The challenge for us is [staying] on the wagon we’re on. Part of what we want to do in this show is make it a bit interactive, letting people at home who might have questions write in right away. It’s about bridging the gap between these different mediums. Things are changing and we’re changing with those times.

I’m looking forward to all the different aspects that could be involved, including getting viewers input—boom—right when you’re doing something. You do it and it’s happening and you get feedback.

People need to feel like it’s theirs. And I think the magic of the Today show has always been that it’s family. I felt that when I was growing up. You look and it’s: Ooohh, Jane Pauley.

I love working on the Today show. I love the family group. It’s one of those places I’ve always felt at home.

Your parents emigrated from Cairo to the U.S., where your name is unusual.

I remember third grade roll call when I wanted to kill myself, or dive under the desk, because in third grade, you don’t want to be different. You want to be Jane Smith.

When we were kids, we used to go back and forth to Egypt in the summer and I remember I was walking down the streets of Cairo and I heard someone yell: “Hoda!” And 10 girls turned around. I remember thinking, this is so bizarre, I’m used to being the only one. But my name is like Jane Smith over there.

You’re still going to work on Dateline. What will your schedule be like?

I’m going to try to balance everything. And just like with anything it’s going to take time and planning. I think, obviously, I’m going to work really hard and focus most of my energy on Today. But I like the big stories. I’m a news person inside and if there’s a big national story that would get coverage on Dateline I would like to be part of that.

We’re going to have more time at 10 [on Today]. We’ll be able to delve deeper or show a different side of a story. I think that’s part of it.

You seem much taller than Ann and Natalie in the NBC publicity photo.

I know! What is that? I’m 5 feet 9 inches. I’m not that tall. At the photo shoot, they had to bring a dress over. Nothing worked. So I wore Ann’s shoes and Meredith [Vieira’s] necklace and earrings.

You’re going to have to get Ann to stand on a box.

Or else I’m in flats. Welcome to my world.