‘Today’ hosts reveal the trauma and triumph behind Hoda Kotb’s tears
For Hoda Kotb, the moment that broke her wasn’t hearing about the latest coronavirus death toll or the collapsing economy. It was a moment of generosity.
The “Today” show anchor had just interviewed New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees about his $5 million donation to provide meals to Louisiana communities suffering during the pandemic.
“Drew, we love you,” she said at the end of his segment. When Brees replied “Love you too, Hoda,” Kotb — a woman who has reported from war zones and covered the devastation of Hurricane Katrina — crumpled her face and burst into tears.
“You don’t know what pressure you’re feeling until somebody says something kind,” Kotb told The Post.
“I don’t cry for cruelty, I cry for kindness. There was something in this moment, his incredible generosity, that got to me. It reminded me there are so many amazing, beautiful people out there.”
Said co-host Savannah Guthrie: “Hoda’s incredibly strong, she’s tough as they come, but she’s full of heart. This . . . was so hard to watch and I just wanted to give her a hug and I think that every single person watching felt that way.”
Unfortunately, there were no hugs as the “Today” team is practicing social distancing — and on March 27, the day this happened, Guthrie was not even in “Today” Studio 1A at Rock Center.
Instead, she was holed up in the basement of her upstate New York home, which had been turned into a makeshift studio after she developed a mild sore throat and a stuffy nose.
“Today” has been hit hard by the pandemic. There is never more than a camera operator on set with the talent. Guest interviews are now conducted via video calls. Just outside 30 Rock, where enthusiastic crowds normally gather to peer in the windows and cheer, it’s a ghost town.
Worst of all, NBC has lost one of its own. Larry Edgeworth, a 61-year-old audio technician who worked on “Today,” died two weeks ago after testing positive for the virus.
“He was just one of those people who was the beating heart of this place. He was around for decades and . . . was really kind, humorous and a rock-solid presence,” said Guthrie, who spent two months on the 2008 presidential campaign trail with Edgeworth.
“The loss of Larry just broke open our news division. This guides us when we talk about this, because we know someone and loved him and it’s very personal.
“I don’t think any of us recognized just how profoundly how each and every one of us would be personally affected.”
Just weeks ago, Guthrie thought NBC News brass was being overly cautious when they sent technicians to her upstate home to set up a studio.
“I knew it was a serious story, but I thought [broadcasting from home] was the most far-fetched thing,” she told The Post. “I never dreamed I would have to use it — but three or four days later I was on air live from my basement.
Guthrie had developed what seemed to be a cold and, out of an abundance of caution, chose to work from home. (She was able to return to New York City on Tuesday.)
Every morning, her husband, communications consultant Mike Feldman, would check the live link to NBC — while still in his pajamas.
“He fires up the camera and the lights, calls the control room. He secretly loves it, and I don’t know what I would have done without him,” Guthrie said.
And while she couldn’t get away with working in pajamas, she did go barefoot while pairing her usual luxe blouses and jackets with blue jeans that couldn’t be seen on camera.
Guthrie, mom to daughter Vale, 5, and 3-year-old son, Charley, is still distancing from Kotb now that they’re reunited at 30 Rock. There are usually two producers in the studio, but the women never actually see them now.
Weather anchor Al Roker, news anchor Craig Melvin and Jenna Bush Hager, who co-hosts the fourth hour of “Today” with Kotb, have all been working from home as a staffer on the 9-10 a.m. crew tested positive for the virus.
“The ‘Today’ show is normally teeming with people. Even when I arrive there are people outside 30 Rock waiting for the show to start — they’ve made trips to come see us. But [now] there’s literally not a soul outside,” said Kotb. “I go into the studio and you can hear your footsteps echoing [because] there’s no one there.”
That also means there are no stylists or makeup artists: Both hosts are now wearing clothes from their own closets and doing their own hair and makeup.
Added Kotb: “I do my hair with, like, a curling iron from the ’80s and really don’t lay eyes on anyone until Savannah pops up on the monitor.”
Kotb has been staying outside the city with her fiancé, financier Joel Schiffman, and their two young daughters, Haley and Hope. She leaves for work at 3:45 a.m. and then heads straight home to “go back into that embrace.”
As for her destination wedding, planned for early fall, Kotb said she and Schiffman are hoping they will not have to reschedule.
Although NBC has set up a studio in Kotb’s garage, she dreads the idea of using it. “It would be really chaotic, and it’s freezing in there,” she said. “Plus, there is something about turning on the TV and seeing Studio 1A. People have looked to that space for support and comfort for 60-plus years, even if there’s just one or two of us.”
Every day, they interview people at the very epicenter of the pandemic, from Dr. Anthony Fauci to a steady stream of governors.
It’s a lot, emotionally, and both said they were struck on Monday when Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus-response coordinator, predicted up to 200,000 American deaths “if we do things almost perfectly.”
“There have been many surreal moments — seeing Times Square empty, a makeshift hospital in Central Park — but when Deborah Birx came out with that projection, I said on air, ‘You just took my breath away.’ A lot of these moments are just beyond comprehension,” said Guthrie.
It’s no wonder Kotb broke down on camera. “There are a lot of scary things out there and you have to keep it together because we’re giving out important information,” she said. “And then, in all of that, we’re trying to hold your hand as we go through it.”
And while both women say they are aware how fortunate they are — “I try really hard to count my blessings and recognize how lucky I am to have a job and that my family is safe,” Guthrie said — they still feel the same anxiety that pervades the day-to-day lives of most Americans right now.
“I really worry for our country, for people’s health and their livelihoods. I’m anxious to go back to normal: my kids having a play date, [me] standing in line for a sandwich in a deli,” Guthrie said.
“I wake up and feel the weight of responsibility at a time when the country is in crisis, I try to think that I’m on the side of information, so that our viewers have the best possible information.”
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