Hoda Kotb with Jane Lorenzini. Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer, and Kathie Lee. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2010.
Kotb graduated college from Virginia Tech in 1986 with a Communications degree. She applied to and was rejected by all three network news agencies. A friend of her uncle helped convince CBS to hire her for errands and for ripping wire. Her parents are Egyptian and she speaks Arabic. She was working for CBS in Egypt when she received an important assignment to film a Dutch ship believed to have armaments that was crossing through the Suez Canal. She helped film this and hid a tape so the Egyptian police would seize a second decoy tape. The tape made “CBS Evening News”.
Kotb then obtained a mews reporter position in Greenville, Mississippi. She became an emergency evening news anchor replacement, starting nervously greeting viewers with “good morning” for the evening broadcast. Despite several errors, she was given another chance. She improved and became the 5 pm news anchor. Afterwards, she worked in other cities’ news stations, including New Orleans, before winding up in New York.
In 1998, Kotb became a correspondent on “Dateline”. She covered anti-American protesting in Pakistan when demonstrators started chanting against her and her film crew. Her assignments took her to Turkey and Iraq. If Iraq, she handled interviews while gunfire surrounded the area during the interviews, as those being interviewed were used to it. She went to Burma and interviewed Sun Kyi, under house arrest, in Kyi’s first interview in 11 years. Since it was illegal to interview Kyi punishable by seven years imprisonment he posed as a tourist and hid the tape with Kyi in a shoe. She filmed in Afghanistan not realizing she was in an area that had land mines. Numerous assignments followed.
Kotb’s work process at “Dateline” was to cover a story, write the script, select of the parts of the taping for the segment, screen it, review, and then send the segment to the senior producers. She and staff often had to argue with the producers and their ideas for revisions. The Executive Producer would be the decision maker. The segment would get its first screening. Further revisions would be made for a second screening. The Legal Departments and Standards and Practices Division representatives would attend the second screening. Standards and Divisions would seek a sense of balance in the presentation.
Kotb began hosting a TV show “Your Total Health” in addition to her “Dateline” duties. She developed breast cancer that required a mastectomy. She decided to present her experiences with breast cancer on the “Today” show.
Kotb sought to host the final hour of the “Today” show. She made an appointment with Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal’s Chief Executive Officer, and pitched her causes. She got the job sharing hosting duties with Ann Curry and Natalie Morales. Morales became the 9 am cohost and national correspondent.
NBC decided to pair Kotb with Kathie Lee Gifford for the final hour of the “Today” show. Gifford has left television eight years prior. Gifford wanted to first meet Kotb. They had a multi-hour initial meeting.
Gifford didn’t use an IFB to hear control room advice during the live show, as she had not used one before. Gifford convinced Kotb to stop using her IFB and to stop referring to notes. The two started clicking better and the show improved with their spontaneous exchanges. They even began drinking alcohol on the air. Kotb observed that “Today” show Executive Director Jim Bell is a good manager who gets people working together.