Meredith Vieira on What Tripped Up Katie Couric (Q&A)
The former "Today" host tells THR why she resisted the format for so long -- and why celebrity TV doesn't interest her: "I don't want to be the third show of the day to get Tom Hanks talking about 'Saving Mr. Banks.'"
This story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Meredith Vieira Show will be the biggest launch in TV syndication this fall and, arguably, is the jewel of the NATPE convention's marketplace. Anchored on NBC stations, it will shoot in New York City and air live on most days from a set that looks like Vieira's home, complete with family photos. Vieira, 60, will draw on experiences in news (Today, 60 Minutes), talk (The View) and hosting game shows (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). "I'm not trying to beat people over the head with my views or be polemic or insipid," says Vieira. "I just want people to feel like they want to spend an hour at Meredith's home."
You resisted doing a talk show for a long time despite numerous offers, pointing to professional and family obligations, including your husband's illness. Why now?
When I left the Today show in 2011, Universal came to me with all this research and pitched a daytime show. I was pretty clear -- in fact, totally clear -- I said, "Thank you so much, and I'm very flattered, but I just left Today; I can't imagine at this time starting something else." But I kept doing Millionaire because I love Millionaire. It's a very condensed schedule so you can have a full life around it. I started to talk to Rich Sirop [Millionaire's executive producer]. We were firing around ideas -- "If you ever get a show, what would you do?" I was actually energized talking about it. Not long after that, [executive vp creative affairs at NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution] Valerie Schaer of NBC asked me for drinks and said, "Would you ever reconsider?" I said, "I might, but I want to be able to do a show the way I want to do it, and I'd like to do a pilot and if I don't like the pilot then not have to do the show." And she said, "Absolutely." We shot actually three.
What were the biggest lessons from those dry runs?
People who like me often use this word: authentic. The minute I go out of that zone and try to be somebody else -- at least for me, because I'm not an actress -- it fails. And some of the stuff we did in the pilots was kind of shtick -- plants in the audience where somebody asks you questions and you have the funny answer. Those things never work.
What do you think went wrong with Katie Couric's talk show?
I can't really speak to what happened. I don't know. All I know is that it's really important, I think, to have a cohesive staff. And I know that's not always easy to do, but that's why I think we're being so meticulous about it.
Will you have a sidekick and band?
I think both will happen. There definitely will be a band, because that's long been one of my fantasies: Whenever I had a bad day, I wanted to go home and open the door and have a band playing. I thought that would be cool. If I can't have it at my real house, I may as well do it here.
Will your show be celebrity-driven?
It's not. Not that we're not going to use celebrities -- we would welcome them, obviously -- but I don't want to be the third show in the day to get Tom Hanks talking about Saving Mr. Banks. … It's about coming up with ways to use celebrities that are not formulaic and allow them to do something that's out of the box for them, or there's a cause that they care a lot about -- to come on and play a game for charity. We want to introduce our audience to people they don't know who are doing things that, in their own way, change the world.
5 Must-See NATPE Panels
Producer-writer-director James L. Brooks, co-creator of The Simpsons, chats with Phil Rosenthal, executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, as part of the series "Storytellers Who Have Shaped Pop Culture." (At 6 p.m. Jan. 28, Brooks also will be honored with a Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award, along with Jon Feltheimer, Lauren Zalaznick and Emilio Azcarraga Jean.) (Jan. 28, 9:45 a.m.)
David Levy makes one of his first appearances since being promoted in August to president of Turner Broadcasting, as part of a series titled "Masters of Marketing." (Jan. 28, 10:15 a.m.)
Marta Kauffman and David Crane, two of the creators of Friends, also are featured as "Storytellers Who Have Shaped Pop Culture." (Jan. 28, 2 p.m.)
Twitter's Fred Graver (head of TV) and Jean-Philippe Maheu (global brand and agency strategy) deliver the opening keynote on how buyers, sellers, distributors and advertisers can use the service to enhance their business. Former NBCUniversal exec Zalaznick, now with LZ Sunday Papers (which she formed after leaving NBCU in 2013), moderates. (Jan. 27, 9 a.m.)
Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of creative affairs at CBS Television Distribution, joins Sean Compton, president of programming and entertainment at the Tribune Co.; Ira Bernstein, co-president of Debmar-Mercury; Steven Walsh, executive vp local market television at Rentrak; and David Bank, research analyst at RBC Capital Markets to discuss TV station group consolidation and fundamental shifts in programming and multiplatform distribution. (Jan. 27, 10:15 a.m.)
For a complete program listing, go to natpe.com/market/schedule