In her dressing room beneath the Today show studios, Kathie Lee Gifford has slipped out of her black cocktail dress and pearl necklace and into jeans, a white T-shirt with a glitter cross on it, and tan pumps. Her face, which is suspiciously adolescent on-camera, looks more like a mature woman's in person, although, in places, it's too plump, too lippy, too bronze. It looks like it would be hard to the touch.
"I'm 55 years old and I have no lines in my forehead," Gifford says. "What do I do? Iron it every morning? You think people don't know I use Botox?" Her frenetic chattiness is simultaneously welcoming and bewildering. You can't keep her on a subject, any subjectshe laughs, sheds a tear for her departed father, and then starts shamelessly flirting like a retired cheerleader speedballing martinis and Phentermine. "I don't want to know about anyone's sex life," she says. "I'm barely interested in my own sex life. Although I'm interested in your sex life. I want to know."
She gives me that Gifford head tilt, the rascally eyes. "But it's not all six orgasms a day anymore," she says. "I'm down to four. Okay, I'm down to two."
Gifford is an unlikely object of my, or anyone's, desire. She's middle-aged, a self-described washed-up Goody Two-Shoes, a serial name-dropper (mainly those of her husband, former football star Frank Gifford, and her kids, Cody and Cassidy), and was allegedly linked to sweatshops. By now she should have been banished to the realm of infomercials, squealing and giggling as she hawks cut-rate jewelry that can be yours for a dozen easy payments. We should be done with her. But we're not: Men who would normally have eyes only for women 30 years Gifford's junior, whose fantasies should be confined to the realm of the Scarletts, the Jessicas, and the Siennas, men who don't watch daytime TV, find themselves thinking Gifford's, well, hot.
Since reemerging six months ago as the cohost, along with Hoda Kotb, of the new fourth hour of the Today show, Gifford has become the unlikely vehicle of a brand extension: She's become daytime television's leading comedic cougar, on a show that's aimed at stay-at-home moms but should be on your TiVo menu. More than that, she's the Botox depository most likely to make you spit out your latte as she careers through her bawdy but dead-on takes on current events and celebrity gossip. Among the ranks of menopausal and postmenopausal women who opine at us daily from their sofas, Gifford has materialized as the funniest. While the View gals, Oprah, Ellen, and fellow Today host Meredith Vieira will occasionally surprise you with unpopular opinions, Gifford ventures into truly un-PC territory. She'll pull up her shirt to show off her rack, joke about her crabs, comment that she finds a doll widely viewed as racist "cute," cut off guests mid-sentence (as she famously did with show regular Sam the Cooking Guy, a clip of which has been viewed a million times on YouTube)all in a way that is both brassy and boozy, a cross between Mae West and Mrs. Robinson. She revels in the role of the smoky older woman for whom cocktail hour can't come soon enough. In the age of YouTube, celebrity reality shows, and Fox News, a middle-aged presenter on a network morning show is the most entertaining and provocative woman on TV.