“Today” stars Al Roker, Dylan Dreyer, Sheinelle Jones and Craig Melvin were on Hilton Head Island May 20 for a live segment of “3rd Hour of Today.” PHOTOS GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

It was a picture-perfect day to show off the Lowcountry as the co-hosts of NBC’s “3rd Hour of Today” brought their live show May 20 to a beach in Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island.

Columbia native Craig Melvin has been bragging about the Lowcountry for years, and this location was chosen to kick off the program’s “Best Summer Ever” vacation promotion.

Production took place under sunny skies with a cooling breeze that kept the heat at bay as Al Roker, Sheinelle Jones, Dylan Dreyer and Melvin made repeated trips to and from their temporary residence to the beachside set for each piece of the hour-long program.

The production was sponsored by VRBO, a vacation rental company that promises experiences vastly different from a hotel. The property from which the production operated was a six-bedroom, nine-bathroom, oceanfront house with a pool at the south end of the island in Sea Pines Resort.

It was the first time since the pandemic that the cast had taken their show on the road.

While where they stayed was impressive, what the four co-hosts were enthusiastic was what they had experienced during their visit. Their short stay was packed with activities that most vacationers enjoy during their visit.

“A really good question is why we’re here. And I think, for so long around the country, we haven’t been able to travel like we wanted to, but slowly but surely things are opening back up,” said Jones. “And what better place to kick off a road trip and hit the skies and show America our beautiful country than to come to a place like this? It is absolutely gorgeous.”

Al Roker concurred.

“We wanted to have the best summer kick-off ever. What better place than to be here. We get to hang out with folks and show them that this is really one of the most beautiful spots in the country, and here we are,” he said.

Dreyer had a couple of unique experiences as part of the production. 

“It’s also special because you know with the Today show, they do things right. So when we get here, we get to check off all the things you would want to do when you come here,” she said. “Granted, we do it in a short period of time, but we got to go fishing. I got to hunt for turtle nests. We ate delicious food. I got to swing at Harbour Town Golf Links, which was just absolutely gorgeous. I wish I could play all 18 holes.”

The day before the live production, like most tourists, the four checked of a variety of activities. They went out on a charter fishing boat (and finally caught a fish) and were thrilled and surprised to find their boat escorted by some dolphins.

After enjoying drinks and a meal at a Harbour Town restaurant, they trekked up the 114 steps to the top of the lighthouse, which was specially decorated with a huge “Welcome Today” sign.

“And it was all in three hours,” Jones said.

“You know, it’s funny because we come every year, and so a lot of the things that we did yesterday was kind of the things we do every summer, but it was nice getting to do those things with my friends,” Melvin said. “They’ve heard me talk about South Carolina for about a decade now. And so to have them come down and see up close what all the hype is about, it’s special.”

His three co-stars enthusiastically agreed that they would be coming back after enjoying a taste of the Lowcountry.

“We get it now,” Dreyer said.

There was even more to discover during the show.

Melvin quizzed his colleagues on their knowledge of South Carolina, informing them that the state grew four times more peaches than neighboring Georgia, the Peach State; and that tennis legend Stan Smith now lives on Hilton Head.

Also, in a unique first, the 3rd Hour was granted the first-ever key to the Town of Hilton Head Island, mounted in a frame and accompanied by a framed certificate.

Not everything was Hilton Head-centric, though. To a chorus of oohs and ahs, Roker shared a tray of bourbon from Bluffton’s Burnt Church Distillery.

“This is beautiful,” exclaimed Jones. “Is everything down here beautiful?”

Roker said this was Johnny Fever Whiskey, one of their rarest whiskeys, that “was created in homage to a man who made a very special impact” on the distillery’s co-founder.

“Authentic Lowcountry spirits have a story to tell that honors local history. And everything is 100% sourced here in South Carolina,” he told the TV audience.

Bourbon wasn’t the only thing locally sourced. Early in the day, Dylan had an opportunity to hunt for sea turtle nests with Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head and a unique experience with the patrol. They discovered a rare green turtle nest – only the sixth in the past 30 years.

Charleston native Lenard Larry McKelvey, known professionally as Charlamagne tha God, is a long-time friend of Melvin’s. Currently the co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show “The Breakfast Club,” he is also on the board of Charleston’s new International African American Museum. Melvin and McKelvey were both on the 2005 Top 10 Under 30 list of South Carolina residents.

There is always food involved in the 3rd Hour, and Lowcountry specialties from local chefs were front and center.

Chef Orchid Paulmeier of Bluffton, owner of One Hot Mama’s American Grill, served up hickory smoked barbecue sandwiches; Andrew Carmines, of Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, served deviled crab made with the sweeter, less frequently used claw meat; and Gullah Geechee Chef B.J. Dennis served his Geechee-style fried okra and shrimp and red rice, or tomato purloo.

It was a happy coincidence that May 20 was also Melvin’s 43rd birthday, and he celebrated with a surprise visit from his parents and brother, a cake from Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery & Cafe on Hilton Head, and a serenade by the cast, crew and audience.

And that audience was as enthusiastic about the visitors as the 3rd Hour team were about being on Hilton Head. These were dedicated 3rd Hour of Today fans who had been instructed to check in at the Sea Pines Trolley pick-up location in Celebration Park by 6:45 a.m. Even though they knew they would be standing on the beach from about 7:30 to 10 a.m. (with no bathroom availability), they were willing to do that to see their broadcasters and watch the show.

Comia Flynn and Martha Sabol from Savannah, Georgia, and Vanessa Coker from Hilton Head Island signed up to be part of the audience because they are fans of  “Today,” recalling the days when Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs were the co-hosts.

“I’ve been watching it since I was a child. And I absolutely love Al, but don’t tell everybody,” Flynn laughed. “I’m just looking forward to meeting them and just seeing what’s going on today.”

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.