Who Wants to Be A Morning Host: Meredith Vieira

Meredith Vieira and her future
Meredith Vieira and her future "Today" co-host, Matt Lauer, bonding at a news conference yesterday. (By Richard Drew -- Associated Press)

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006

Moments after being introduced yesterday as the new co-host of the "Today" show, Meredith Vieira observed: "I had 20 years of news where I never said anything; now every other word out of my mouth is 'orgasm.' "

NBC has found its morning woman.

Rather than project a false bravado, Vieira said: "I'm crazy. One moment I'd be excited, the next I'd be . . . literally crying on the couch, saying, 'I don't know if I can do this, what if I fail, I don't know if I can handle the hours.' "

At the news conference, 30 hours after Katie Couric announced she was leaving "Today," Vieira displayed the frank talk heard on ABC's "The View" (where she is leaving as co-host), the zippiness of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (where she may or may not continue as host) and the news savvy of a former "60 Minutes" correspondent.

After being introduced by NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker, Vieira said the idea of her joining the show "was conceived in the back seat of Jeff's car." She said Zucker picked her up in an SUV with tinted windows last October and, while driving her the few blocks from "View" to "Millionaire," broached the idea of her joining "Today" -- which shows how early he was planning for Couric's possible departure to anchor the "CBS Evening News."

Her reaction? "I really thought you were going to skew a little younger, since I'm pretty old." Vieira is 52.

Later, Vieira had dinner at the apartment of her future co-host, Matt Lauer. "It was like going on a blind date and you really like the guy," she reported.

Before signing the deal -- described by knowledgeable sources as being worth about $40 million over four years, with options for an extension -- Vieira had to resolve her concerns about the impact on her family. She has three teenagers and a husband, former CBS producer Richard M. Cohen, who has written a book about his struggle with multiple sclerosis, which has robbed him of much of his eyesight, and two bouts of colon cancer.

In an interview, Vieira said: "The MS is something we live with every day. There are good days and not-so-good days, but mostly it's under control. . . . If suddenly Richard took a turn for the worst and the job interferes, we'd regroup."

Vieira told reporters that her oldest child, Ben, 16, called it "a no-brainer." Gabriel, 14, finding her crying about not being able to see them in the morning, said, "See us do what, fight?" Lily, 13, said, "Mom, just follow your heart."

In 1991, after two years as a "60 Minutes" correspondent, Vieira became pregnant with her second child and left the show when producer Don Hewitt would not allow her to continue to work part time. Since then, she has turned down morning show offers from ABC and CBS.

When Vieira announced her departure on "The View," co-host Barbara Walters called her "the glue" of the program and gave her a big hug. Vieira somehow managed to mention an incident "when my boob fell out of my dress" and "nobody noticed."


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