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Kathie Lee Gifford won over TV audiences with her on-screen chemistry with co-anchor Regis Philbin on The Morning Show. She now co-anchors the Today show.
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She later admitted it was a show-biz marriage, no more than "a contract with the state of California. Although the marriage only lasted six years, it was professionally productive. Gifford cut three gospel albums between 1976 and 1978, and the couple often appeared together on religious television shows, such as The 700 Club.
Gifford simultaneously began to work on her own, more secular career. While visiting a friend on the set of the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives, she was hired to play Nurse Callahan, which she did for nine months. She also worked on commercial jingles and made several TV pilots. From 1977-1978, Gifford was the featured singer on Name That Tune, replacing song lyrics with "la-la's." This exposure generated a slew of career opportunities, including a part in the TV sitcom Hee Haw Honeys, and gigs as the opening act for such comics as Bill Cosby, Shecky Green, and Rich Little in Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos.
In 1981, Regis Philbin left his post at the radio show A.M. Los Angeles, and Kathie Lee Gifford substituted as host for two days. Susan Winston, an executive producer of ABC's televised morning program Good Morning America (GMA) happened to be listening and was immediately drawn to Gifford's talent and freshness. She asked Gifford to do some reporting and occasionally substitute for Joan Lunden on GMA in New York. After divorcing her first husband in 1982, Gifford made the move to New York City and began to appear on the nationally televised show.
In the meantime, Regis Philbin, now co-host of The Morning Show on WABC-TV in New York, was actively looking for a new partner. Watching Gifford on GMA, Philbin was impressed by her vitality and energy, and eventually asked her to join him on his show. Ready for a break from the stiffly scripted news program and inspired by the new wave of "reality" shows such as Geraldo! and Sally Jessy Raphael, Gifford decided to take the leap into a lighter forum. She took her seat next to Philbin in June 1985, and the two immediately ignited a chemistry that would become legendary on daytime television. In the first week, Gifford called Philbin a "jerk," beginning a playful cat-and-dog fight, which proved that the vinegar-tongued Philbin had finally met his match.
Two months after their first show aired, The Morning Show knocked Phil Donahue out of first place in the tri-state area, and in 1988, as arranged through an agreement between WABC and Buena Vista Television Live With Regis & Kathie Lee became nationally syndicated. The live 15-minute "host chat" that opened each show had nationwide appeal and made Gifford and Philbin instant celebrities. Gifford quickly became America's television sweetheart.
On October 18, 1986, Gifford married ABC's Monday Night Football sports broadcaster, and former NFL player Frank Gifford, whom she had met on the set of GMA. The Giffords, who reside in Greenwich, Connecticut, have two children, Cody Newton, born in 1990, and Cassidy Erin, born in 1993.
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