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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kathie Lee Gifford, who shared the TV spotlight and coffee with Regis Philbin for 15 years, is returning to the morning airwaves next month as part of NBC's "Today" show, the network said on Monday.
Gifford, 54, widely expected for several weeks to join "Today," will co-host the newly launched fourth hour of the top-rated U.S. morning show with NBC News correspondent Hoda Kotb, starting on April 7, according to the network.
"It couldn't be worse timing in some ways," Gifford joked as her hiring was announced during Monday's "Today" broadcast. "I'm eight years older, 10 pounds heavier and a half-inch shorter, and just in time for HD television. That makes no sense."
Gifford was welcomed by the entire "Today" team, including Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, who will continue to co-host the 7-to-9 a.m. time slot that forms the mainstay of the program opposite ABC's "Good Morning America" and "The Early Show" on CBS.
"Today," which has dominated the breakfast-time ratings for the past 12 years, currently averages about 6 million viewers in its opening two hours, surpassing second-ranked "Good Morning America" by at least 1 million viewers since November.
The third hour of "Today" averages roughly 4 million viewers, but the fourth hour has lagged well behind with only about 2 million viewers on average since its September debut.
The network hopes Gifford, a veteran TV personality in her own right, will bring some much-needed celebrity wattage to the show's newest edition.
The singer-actress gained fame in the 1970s with appearances on "Name That Tune" and later as co-host with Philbin on "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee." She left that show after 15 years in 2000 and was later replaced by Kelly Ripa.
Prior to her "Live" stint, Gifford served as a correspondent on "Good Morning America" for three years.
The 10-to-11 a.m. hour of "Today" has been co-hosted since its inception last fall by a trio of anchors consisting of Kotb, Ann Curry and Natalie Morales.
With Gifford's arrival, Curry will return to her principal duties as "Today" news anchor during its first two hours and then co-host the third hour with Morales and Al Roker. Morales also will continue to serve as national correspondent on "Today."