The Today co-anchors reflected on the morning they learned Lauer was fired for "inappropriate sexual behavior." Kotb sat next to Guthrie at the top of Nov. 29's show and the two, visibly shaken, told the world about the news.
"I think you could see from the moment that the news happened that our hearts were broken, and in lots of ways, they still are,” Guthrie told PEOPLE. “That feeling was shared through our whole newsroom and our whole Today show staff, because it sounds like cliché or a promo line, but it happens to be true: We are family, and we do love each other, and families do go through hard times, and when that happens in good families, you just get closer. You pull together and you focus on the foundation and what keeps you together. I think that’s what we’ve all been trying to do. And for me, I just am trying to get comfortable with how complicated the feelings around all of it are, and it is complicated. And just trying to have love and compassion for everyone concerned.”
Guthrie said she's grateful to have Kotb, who will continue to host the program’s popular fourth hour with Kathie Lee Gifford — by her side.
“I remember reading something later that said I had grabbed Hoda’s hand, and of course that’s not something you plan,” she said. “That’s just something you do because you have a real friend, and you need to hold her hand.”
"I won’t forget it. I said to Savannah after that prayer, ‘We’re gonna make it through this together,’ ” Kotb said. “We just sort of sat there and I was sort of on autopilot, I don’t really remember a lot of it, but I do remember just sort of holding onto Savannah and saying it just wasn’t in our hands anymore, it was in God’s hands.”
Kotb says that now she feels “a responsibility” to their “incredible staff.”
“We ask how they’re doing, we want them to feel good, we give them hugs,” she says. “Just so they remember this is bigger than one person, it’s bigger than Matt, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than Savannah, it’s bigger than all of us. So I think Savannah said it right, we just shore up, we get together and we get stronger.”
While some might be over the moon with the type of promotion Kotb just received, she says she's actually not in a celebratory mood.
“I actually have zero of that in me,” she explains. “What I do feel is like I’ve been part of ‘us’ even before today, before it all came to be. I felt really integral to our family and I was part of the group. My chair may be changed, but I feel like I felt before. Part of a strong family.”
Kotb revealed in an interview with Entertainment Tonight that Lauer sent her a congratulatory text when he heard the news.
"I did hear from him, yeah, he texted me and he said congratulations and some really nice words, and it meant the world when I saw the text pop up," Kotb told Entertainment Tonight following her promotion. "My heart just went like, you know, it meant the world to see that."
Kotb also revealed she has stayed in touch with Lauer following his swift firing in November.
"You know, Matt is our good friend and continues to be, and I think for both of us, we've just been trying to navigate this time and honor our love and friendship with Matt, but also understand and try to learn more about these circumstances," the new co-anchor said. "So, it's complicated when you are surprised by revelations, but you still care deeply for somebody who's a friend. I think for all of us, we've just been trying to navigate through that, with straightforwardness and honesty and integrity."
Since Lauer's termination, Kotb has kept his seat warm alongside co-anchor Savannah Guthrie for the 7-9 a.m. weekday broadcast. Today's ratings skyrocketed during the interim period, beating ABC's Good Morning America as the top morning program in overall viewership for the longest period since August 2016.