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Kathie Lee Gifford & Hoda Kotb on Bringing Trouble to Today

06/04/2013 at 09:45 AM EDT

Kathie Lee Gifford & Hoda Kotb Bring Trouble to TV
Kathie Lee Gifford (left) and Hoda Kotb
Courtesy AARP
They were an unlikely pair at first: serious Dateline reporter Hoda Kotb and performer Kathie Lee Gifford, who shot to fame as Regis Philbin's morning chat show partner of 15 years.

Combined, the co-anchors have energized the once-stale fourth hour of the Today show since 2008. The chatty hosts drink wine, dish on celebs (and themselves) and share heartfelt girlfriend wisdom to a growing group of fans.

Their partnership is chronicled in the June-July issue of AARP The Magazine, which has the supportive TV colleagues appearing on the cover in bathing suits and wide grins.

"It needed a spark," Kotb, 48, says of Today's fourth-hour makeover. Adds Gifford, 59: "It needed trouble!"

Now, says Kotb, "Our show is a place to forget your troubles."

Both credit the other for the show's ongoing success and say knowing each other has enriched their lives. "I only knew the Dateline Hoda, but I had lunch with the happy-hour Hoda. I loved her!" Gifford recalls of their early days. "[I said,] You're the kind of person I'd be friends with for the rest of my life."

Kotb says she's grateful they found each other, as a TV team and pals. "I say thank you to Kathie Lee all the time. Before her, I'd still be doing what I was doing and not know what I was missing. My life would be half as full."

The pair celebrated the issue – and were thrilled at seeing the cover for the first time – during a luncheon on Monday at New York's Le Bernardin, where they toasted with wine and dined on warm scallop "carpaccio," snowpeas and shiitake with lime-shiso broth and wild striped bass with Bhutanese red rice and ginger-red wine sauce.

"I never like these things and I love it," Gifford told the crowd, which included colleagues Natalie Morales and Willie Geist, of the bathing suit cover.

Kathie Lee Gifford & Hoda Kotb on Bringing Trouble to Today| Today, TV News, Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford

Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford

Pearcey Proper for AARP

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