Kathie Lee Gifford Planned to Leave 'Today' Before Matt Lauer Was Fired (Exclusive)

When Kathie Lee Gifford announced she was leaving the Today Show at the end of 2018, after more than a decade hosting the third hour alongside her good friend, Hoda Kotb, fans were rightly disappointed. However, Gifford already had plans to leave the show and pursue work in Nashville long before she actually did — but was persuaded to stay after Matt Lauer abruptly left the show, among his numerous accusations of sexual misconduct.

"It's not because I don't love a lot of people there," Gifford told PopCulture.com. "But I loved what I was doing [in Nashville], and I've been waiting my whole life to do this kind of work. So, I had to. I planned this exit from the Today Show a couple of years in advance. And then all kinds of things kept happening at the Today Show, things that we don't need to talk about, but sad.

"And they kept asking me, 'Kathie, will you stay, will you stay?' Until finally I said, "'I've already committed to these movies I'm doing, guys, and these recording things. I can't anymore.'"

Gifford moved to Nashville to pursue writing music and making movies, things she has wanted to do for years, but was unable to fully immerse herself in due to the rigors of hosting a morning TV show. Still, Gifford hasn't completely closed the door on morning TV shows, recently guest-hosting alongside Kotb, and maintains a house in Connecticut so she can easily go back and forth to New York City when she needs to.

"I was 15 years with Regis [Philbin] and 11 years with Hoda," Gifford reflected. "And each time I thought I'd stay one year, I fall in love. And I don't do love lightly. Hoda's coming to my house, hopefully I get to see her babies while I'm home ... I'm busy."

Busy, indeed. Gifford just performed two nights with the Nashville Pops Orchestra, where she received a Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also writing oratorios, as well as other music, and is starring in a Lifetime movie, Godwink Christmas 2: Meant for Love. Her work might take her all over the world, but for right now, Gifford feels most at home in Nashville.

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"I've been here a year now, even though I still stayed at the Today Show until April, I got a small place last October," Gifford noted. "And very quickly realized I want to be here a lot more than I thought I wanted to be. I didn't want to invest in something that I would have to get rid of 'cause I said, 'Oh, you know what, it didn't work out; it was an emotional decision' ... It was a lot of being down here and I remember thinking, 'Every time I get on the plane to have to go back to New York I go, 'I don't wanna go.'"

Photo Credit: Getty / NBC