NBC revealed Kotb will take over as Savannah Guthrie's co-host on the weekday program in an announcement Tuesday - a little over a month after Lauer was sacked by the network following an accusation of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Speaking to PEOPLE about that day now, Guthrie said she and Kotb "were in it together" and added, "We are family, and families do go through hard times, and when that happens in good families, you just get closer".
"I am pinching myself", said a beaming Kotb, sitting beside her.
The appointment is the first time that two women will be the program's official main hosts; "Today" has an overwhelmingly female audience and is the network's most profitable franchise.
Kotb had filled in temporarily until Tuesday's announcement made the move permanent.
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"He texted me and he said congratulations and some really nice words, and it meant the world when I saw the text pop up", Kotb told Entertainment Tonight.
Kotb, 53, will continue to co-host the show's fourth hour with Kathie Lee Gifford. She has been one of the show's most valued employees, getting promoted to third co-anchor in March of 2017, making her an obvious choice when NBC News needed an immediate fill-in after Matt Lauer got fired.
And while her co-anchor chemistry with Guthrie remains to be seen, the charismatic Kotb arrives without a whiff of scandal and boosts the Today anchor desk to a double dose of femininity.
Mr. Lauer was sacked late past year for alleged sexual misconduct amid the national movement to address workplace harassment. She joked that someone should check on her mother who had likely fainted after hearing the news that she is now co-anchor.
She's also a correspondent for Dateline NBC, the author of three books, and the host of "The Hoda Show" on Sirius XM. "If it works, it works", Hoda said of her bond with Savannah.