gifford_8-11.JPGIn the wake of last month’s awkward cooking segment with ‘Sam the Cooking Guy,’ the New York Times’ Douglas Quenqua takes a look at the 4th hour of the Today show and Kathie Lee Gifford‘s impact.

It has been four months since Gifford joined, and she, “has been a lightning rod for ridicule ever since,” writes Quenqua.

Despite the buzz, the ratings are down since she joined — “from 1.9 million during the four weeks before, to 1.7 million during the four months after.” But NBC attributes the decline to the summer months.

“The feeling here is we love Kathie Lee,” says Today EP Jim Bell. “She is unique, she’s a character, she’s colorful and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. I don’t think we’d have her any other way.”

And, for better or worse, Bell says, “I don’t remember getting too many calls about the fourth hour of the ‘Today’ show before we got her.”