"We're aware that we ain't in church," she says. "I've suggested to our producers that we have a crawl beneath the screen that says KATHIE LEE GIFFORD WOULD LIKE TO APOLOGIZE FOR WHAT SHE JUST SAID, FOR WHAT SHE IS SAYING, AND FOR WHAT SHE IS ABOUT TO SAY. 'Cause I know that I'm kidding and flirting and having fun."

Eight years ago, her previous television persona—that of a prim Stepford wife alongside Regis Philbin's avuncular showbiz veteran on the long-running Live With Regis and Kathie Lee—was far less sympathetic. Wearing neutral-colored pantsuits and a pasted-on smile, she came across like an ADD-afflicted flight attendant. It was too easy to hate the cute, perky blonde. When her business and familial woes became tabloid fodder—accusations that her licensed clothing line was being manufactured in sweatshops were followed by news of a hotel tryst involving Frank and another woman—it seemed like payback for all the public boasting she had done about her wonderful family life.

Sam the Cooking Guy tries to put a stop to Kathie Lee's interruptions.

She left Live With Regis and Kathie Lee in 2000 to pursue a singing career and work in musical theater, which is what she was doing when she returned to TV for a guest spot on Today in November 2007. "She came on and just jumped right into it," recalls executive producer Jim Bell. He went over to the Giffords' Greenwich, Connecticut, estate and made the deal to get her back on the air.

This particular morning, Gifford and Kotb run through a dozen topics of the day, including a story about a woman who is suing her husband for giving her an STD. "You gotta get something out of a marriage," Gifford says, "but how is she going to get any dates?" She goes on to speculate on the air that James Woods has gotten a Brazilian wax—a deeply disturbing image—before she hits the floor in that cocktail dress and those heels to do some yoga, adjusting her cleavage first and saying "Make sure the puppies are in." She has the crew cracking up constantly, and has reduced her cohost's role to that of straight woman—Kotb keeps the show on track like an Egyptian-American Bud Abbot. Gifford makes frequent references to being geriatric, squinting and talking about her one good eye. Later, when I mention that she is menopausal, she interrupts me.

"Menopausal? Honey, I am postmenopausal. Don't flatter me."

Gifford manages to be both vixen and (almost) senior citizen, flirt and Boniva guzzler. "Here there are no pretensions about Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Here it's like I say what comes to my mind," she says. "I do the crazy things—I know what's going to work on-camera. We're not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but we might be your glass of champagne or, in my case, Chardonnay."