Kathie Lee Gifford Says Matt Lauer Would Be First to Congratulate Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb was named Matt Lauer's permanent replacement as Today co-anchor on Tuesday, but she'll still be sipping wine during the 10 o'clock hour of the morning show with Kathie Lee Gifford.

Gifford told PEOPLE that she couldn't be happier for her longtime bestie.

"I feel happy for her because she is having the greatest year of her life, and if she's happy, I'm happy for her," Gifford said. "What's happening to her now is something she would have given anything for earlier on in her career. … Nobody is as good as what they do as Hoda. Nobody spreads more joy. But she has learned that the way you make your living is different from what your life is all about. She has a life to go home to that means more to her than anything she could have dreamed of. I'm not minimizing how huge this is, but I'm explaining this comes to her at the perfect time. … She knows what's truly important."

For 53-year-old Kotb, that's her family, including baby Haley Joy, whom she adopted last February, and boyfriend Joel Schiffman.

"I cant think about a more beloved person than Hoda at the show," Gifford, 64, adds. "Everybody universally adores her. She doesn't have a mean bone in her body. She's more loving and kind, so when these wonderful things started happening for this wonderful woman, we were thrilled for her."

Gifford also added that Lauer, who was fired for "inappropriate sexual behavior" after more than 20 years at NBC, would be happy for Kotb as his replacement.

"The whole thing with Matt is not something we want to get into. We love this man and we are heartbroken about him being gone. Our sense of joy is tempered by our sense of loss," Gifford says of Kotb's success after Lauer's downfall. "The best way to say it is that it's a bit bittersweet. Nobody wants to profit off of someone's pain. But this is reality. It's a business, and someone has to move on. Matt would be the first to congratulate her and wish her well."

Gifford herself said that Lauer's departure even affected her career. She said that she told NBC in January 2017 that she would leave after 2017 to pursue film projects, explaining, "You get to a point of your life where you run out of time to do what you want to do."

However, in the turmoil and aftermath of Lauer's departure, Gifford said the network reworked her schedule, which allowed her to stay.

"Some things were painful for us. And we had to adjust, and then they said, 'If we accommodate your schedule, will you consider staying?' I wasn't looking to get out, but I needed the time. So when they accommodated the schedule, then there was no reason to leave. … There's no better place in a 50-year career. It all worked out, so I'm staying," Gifford said.


NBC News chairman Andy Lack announced Kotb's new position as co-anchor next to Savannah Guthrie on Tuesday morning.

Guthrie and Kotb will co-anchor the 7-9 a.m. hours of Today, along with weather anchor Al Roker and Orange Room host Carson Daly. Kotb will also continue co-hosting the 10 a.m. hour of Today with Gifford.