Birds of prey, cheerleaders and Spoleto Festival USA performers were part of the mix of entertainment offered for a national TV audience on Thursday when the “Today” show came to town at the College of Charleston.
The fourth-hour edition of the program with hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb drew an enthusiastic audience who waved signs and cheered loudly.
Nancy Blaney, a senior at the college, used the situation for some “shameless self-promotion” in the form of a placard she touted that advertised she was humble yet brilliant and seeking employment.
“This is something that's really cool. I'm going to be on that stage in 12 days,” Blaney said, referring to her upcoming graduation ceremony.
Gifford and Kotb competed in a shrimp-peeling contest, danced the Charleston, sampled local coconut cake and wore hats from a shop on King Street.
“This is one of those places that is contagious,” Kotb said.
Two editions of the show's fourth hour happened amid the towering, moss-draped live oaks of the Cistern. One hour-long program was taped for broadcast today. Another, which was carried live, featured the hosts making their entrance in a horse-drawn carriage as well as a performance by the Cougar cheerleaders and entertainment from the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw.
A peregrine falcon and Harris hawk from the center swooped through the trees where big bright lights were hung to illuminate the stage. One of the birds cruised close to show correspondent Sara Haines as it returned to a handler.
“It takes your breath away,” Haines said of the encounter.
Today's broadcast at 10 a.m. will include Gifford and Kotb competing in trivia contests, music from members of The Citadel band and Spoleto performers Abner and Amanda Ramirez performing a toe-tapping mix of folk, soul, blues and pop.
Before the shows, Gifford and Kotb said they loved Charleston's food, scenery, architecture and people.
“Nobody warned us we would gain five pounds,” Gifford said.
They dined at the Peninsula Grill and visited Drayton Hall after arriving here on Tuesday. Kotb likes the “romance factor” of Charleston and the “polite and sweet and kind men.”
The audience included tourists such as Irma and Norm Resnic of Cape Cod, Mass. “We have just loved the city,” Norm said.
Students were a big part of the crowd. College of Charleston junior Joan Anderson was among 20 members of her sorority waiting in a long line to get into the show. “Hoda (Kotb) is a Tri Delt. We're just supporting her,” she said.
At 7 a.m., the queue for the show stretched down George Street and around the corner. Fans already inside the iron gates bubbled with excitement. The event made for some final college memories.
“This is like the last cool thing to do before we graduate,” said senior Molly Laufman.
For some, watching the program is a part of daily life. Senior Andrea Navarro said she scheduled her classes around Gifford and Kotb.
Another regular viewer, Adrienne Held, took in the excitement while holding her infant son Ashton. “We've been watching them every morning since he was born,” she said.
A light rain fell briefly toward the end of the two hour-long shows, but the crowd stayed put. Gifford and Kotb couldn't stick around to chat because they had a flight to catch, Haines said.
But it seemed they would be back.
“Charleston is one of the greatest places on Earth,” Gifford said.