From Kathie Lee Gifford to Megyn Kelly: The 'Today' Show's Biggest Exits

By Zach Seemayer‍
Copyright (c) 2018 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Kathie Lee Gifford is moving on to the next chapter of her life, announcing on Tuesday that she would soon be leaving the Today show after more than a decade.

Gifford made a tearful announcement during the fourth hour of the NBC morning news talk show revealing that she'd be staying on as Hoda Kotb's co-host until April 7, 2019 -- the 11th anniversary of her time on the program.

"I've been here almost 11 years. [I] thought I would stay one year, [but] something happened along the way. I fell in love with a beautiful Egyptian goddess," Gifford said, referring to her longtime co-host. "It's an exciting time for me and I'm thrilled about all the projects that are coming up, but it's also hard [to leave] because the reason that I stayed longer than a year is because I love everybody here so much."

Gifford's decision to leave the show is one has proven to be one of the biggest (and most amiable) departures in years, but Today has a long history of surprising (and shocking) fans and viewers with some big-name exits.

In light of Gifford's announcement, ET is looking back at the show's most controversial, impactful, and unexpected shake-ups in its 66-year history.

1. Bryant Gumbel

Bryant Gumbel
Raymond Bonar/NBC/NBC NewsWire

While Gumbel's eventual departure in 1997 was on relatively good terms, his tenure on the show included quite a bit of drama and internal strife, which led to a somewhat rocky legacy with the show.

Gumbel, who had been primarily a sports reporter, became a Today show co-host in January 1982, following the departure of Tom Brokaw, and was named principal anchor in September of the same year. He was also the show's first African-American host.

After a shaky first few years co-hosting the show with longtime Today star Jane Pauley, the pair eventually found their rhythm and reversed a ratings slump, which saw Today trailing Good Morning America for several years, ultimately bringing the show to new heights of success.

In 1989, Gumbel was asked by an NBC exec to write an internal memo identifying any problems he saw with the Today show, and the longtime host had something of a laundry list. He had some particularly hard criticisms for weatherman Willard Scott and movie reviewer Gene Shalit.

The memo was soon leaked to the public, and Gumbel took a lot of heat for his harsh words, and the feud between him and Scott tarnished many fans' enjoyment of the series. However, Gumbel's exit came years later, and he's remained on seemingly good terms with the morning show since, having returned numerous times for special appearances.

2. Katie Couric

Katie Couric
Heidi Gutman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Couric joined the Today show in 1989 and became a permanent host on the show in 1991, following the departure of Deborah Norville. Couric quickly became on of the most popular personalities in the show's history, and she meshed well with her fellow hosts, Gumbel and Matt Lauer. Together, the trio ushered in one of Today's most successful eras, and the show enjoyed a ratings dominance that lasted nearly 15 years.

However, in 2006, Couric made the surprising jump from NBC to CBS when she got the opportunity of a lifetime -- to anchor CBS Evening News. The veteran journalist couldn't pass on the chance to become the first woman to host one of the "big three," a term that referenced the nightly news programs which aired on the three primary broadcast TV channels: CBS, NBC and ABC. Couric has remained amiable with the Today show since leaving, and even came back as a guest host for a week in January 2017 to commemorate Lauer's 20th anniversary with the program.

3. Meredith Vieira

Meredith Vieira
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

After Couric's exit, The View co-host was hired to fill her role in April 2006, and she enjoyed a fruitful tenure alongside Lauer. She became a popular replacement and was met with a lot of support from longtime viewers, and stayed with the program for over five years.

However, in 2011, Vieira announced that she had decided to step away from the show in order to spend time with her ailing husband, journalist Richard Cohen, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and has fought a number of battles with colon cancer. However, she remained on good terms with the show and returned for several special events in the years since she left.

4. Ann Curry

Ann Curry
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

While Curry had been a news anchor on the Today show since 1997 -- and served as an anchor on Dateline NBC from 2005 to 2007 -- it wasn't until Vieira's exit in 2011 that Curry was asked to serve as co-host of the morning news talk show, alongside Lauer. However, her time as host proved to be shockingly short.

In 2012, Curry tearfully revealed that she would be leaving the show. Behind the scenes, Curry had just signed a new contract to serve as the NBC News National and International Correspondent. Backlash to her exit was instant, with many leveling accusations of racism, while speculation regarding Lauer's possible role in her termination ran wild.

In January 2018, amid Lauer's sexual misconduct scandal, Curry sat down on CBS This Morning and said she was "not surprised by the allegations."

When asked directly about rumors regarding Lauer being behind her firing, Curry didn't specifically confirm the speculation, but responded, "You'll have to ask someone else," and added, "It hurt like hell.

5. Billy Bush

Billy Bush
Harry How/Getty Images

Bush's time with Today was one of the shortest among those on this list, but somehow had as much, or even more, drama than most of the others. The former Access Hollywood host was hired to co-host the third hour of Today in May 2016, and by October he was gone.

Bush's time with the show came to an end following the release of the infamous Trump Tapes on Oct. 17. The hot mic recordings, from a 2005 Access Hollywood interview between Bush and Donald Trump, featured the future president making lewd comments about women and cavalier references of sexual assault, while Bush seemingly egged him on. The backlash to the tapes lead to Bush being suspended from the show and eventually let go.

6. Tamron Hall

Tamron Hall
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

In February 2017, Hall left the Today show after three years co-hosting "Today’s Take," the show's now-defunct third hour, alongside Al Roker. Hall's departure went unexplained by the network, but news of her exit came less than a week after sources at NBC told ET that Megyn Kelly's daytime talk show would be replacing Today's Take.

A source with knowledge of the situation told ET at the time that Hall found out about the fall lineup changes a "short time" before the announcement was made, adding that "most people" at the network were shocked at the news.

7. Matt Lauer

Matt Lauer
Noam Galai/WireImage

After 20 years with the Today show, Lauer's termination came following allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment leveled against the veteran news man. On Nov. 29, Lauer's co-anchor, Savannah Guthrie, made a emotional on-air announcement that Lauer had been fired for "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace."

Following his shocking firing, Variety published a report containing allegations of sexual misconduct from three different women, including claims that he reprimanded some female employees for not engaging in sexual acts when he propositioned them.

Days later, Lauer broke his silence on the scandal. "There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry," he said, in a statement read on-air by Guthrie. "As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC. Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed."

8. Megyn Kelly

Megyn Kelly
Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

After kicking off her Megyn Kelly Today series, taking over the third hour of the Today show, Kelly's highly lauded transition from Fox News to NBC proved to be a doomed experiment. 

She endured a rough start with NBC in mid-2017, which included a controversial premiere interview with the cast of Will & Grace, a less-than-impressive exclusive interview with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, a controversial sit-down with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and questionable remarks on a slew of different topics (including the promotion of fat shaming women).

Following a very public feud with Jane Fonda that lasted months, and a lot of behind-the-scenes strife, the straw that broke the camel's back came on Oct. 23, when Kelly defended the use of blackface in Halloween costumes during a panel discussion on her show. 

The backlash was immediate and deafening. Hours after the show aired, Kelly had already released a memo apologizing to her colleagues and then delivered a tearful mea culpa the next day. However, it was not enough to save her show and three days later NBC announced that Megyn Kelly Today had been cancelled.

RELATED CONTENT:

The 'Today' Show's 11 Biggest Scandals

Megyn Kelly's Tumultuous 2018: From Celebrity Feuds to Controversial Termination

Matt Lauer Makes Rare Appearance 9 Months After 'Today' Show Firing

 

Copyright (c) 2018 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.