08/11/2008 at 08:55 AM EDT
In light of some new criticism about Kathie Lee Gifford – stemming from a Today
show regular telling her on-air
last month to stop being such a Chatty Kathie – NBC is speaking up on behalf of its still-relatively new addition to the fourth hour of its top-rated morning program.
"The feeling here is we love Kathie Lee," Today
executive producer Jim Bell tells the The New York Times
. "She is unique, she's a character, she's colorful and she's not afraid to speak her mind. I don't think we’d have her any other way."
Since joining co-host
Hoda Kotb in April, Gifford, 54, was targeted by some TV critics
for falling into her same old pattern of monopolizing airtime to talk about herself and her family. (A PEOPLE.com poll in April, asking for reaction to Gifford's return to daytime TV, found that 42 percent of the respondents "loved it," while 58 percent "loathed it.")
Last month's incident with Sam the Cooking Guy (Sam Zien) apparently has only fueled the flames – and helped to launch some anti-Gifford Web sites – though, as The Times
notes, those carping remain relatively small in number.
Then again, on the topic of numbers, ratings have declined since Gifford joined the fourth hour – from 1.9 million in the month before her arrival to 1.7 million for the month afterward – though the network insists that this is reflective of the typical summer decline in viewership.