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Meredith Vieira, the former Today show anchor, is hosting her third opening ceremony at NBC when Brazil officially kicks off the 2016 Rio Olympics on Friday night. Matt Lauer will once again be her co-host, and they’ll be joined by Hoda Kotb, pinch-hitting for a pregnant Savannah Guthrie, who did not make the trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the site of the XXXI Summer Games.
Bob Costas, NBC’s primetime Olympics host, will open the telecast and he’s expected to address some of the issues that have plagued Brazil, including political and economic turmoil, security concerns, polluted water and the threat of the Zika virus. Michele Tafoya and Ros Gold-Onwude will also report from Rio’s famed Maracana Stadium, and David Feherty will join the show to discuss golf’s return to the Games after a 112-year absence. (A portion of Feherty’s interview with President Barack Obama will also air during the network’s opening ceremony coverage.)
VIeira talked to The Hollywood Reporter from Rio about the advice she gave Kotb, the resilience of the Brazilian people and those pesky mosquitos.
Are you being attacked by giant mosquitos?
I could sell you 50 containers of Deet, that of course you wouldn’t need. It’s fabulous here. I have not seen one mosquito.
But you’ve seen a lot of security.
Yes, there’s a lot security everywhere. Everywhere you walk you see soldiers, the police; they say there’s 85,000 security personnel here. And you definitely see them.
What do you like about hosting the opening ceremony?
It’s a great opportunity to get a feeling for the country. Brazil won the bid [to host the Olympics] in 2009. So they have been working on [the Olympics] for years, and they’ve been working on the opening ceremony for two and a half years. So you see the result of all of that work and the dedication. And the thing with Brazil, they’ve had rough going for the past year at least; the political problems, the economic problems, the health crisis, the security issues. So I think to them, the opening ceremony is an opportunity to hit the restart button. I always feel very fortunate to be part of that.
Have you given Hoda Kotb any advice?
She was a little overwhelmed the first day. You get that packet, which has 200 and something countries in it, and think, What have I done?! We’re working with Matt Lauer and there is nobody better. I said to Hoda, “Take your cues from him.” But also, being a newbie is really the best because you’re not jaded. [Brazil] didn’t have the money to have the bells and whistles like they did in Beijing or London. But the energy of the people, the singing, the dance, there’s so much joy, and it’s palpable. You really feel it.
Are there any events or Olympians you’re looking forward to seeing?
Definitely Michael Phelps. He has so many medals — 22. But just to see him in his last Olympics is exciting. I also love the gymnasts, Simone Biles and the whole gang. I think they are going to do very well. And I love beach volleyball, just because it’s a party.
Two years ago in Sochi you were pressed into service as host of NBC’s primetime coverage when Bob Costas was felled by pink eye. What was that like?
Totally crazy because it came out of nowhere. When [NBC Olympics executive producer] Jim Bell told me they needed me to fill in, I didn’t even have time to think about it. And then he told me I was the first woman [to host primetime Olympics coverage] and I was thinking, “Why are you telling me that?” Fortunately, that pressure [was alleviated] by working with the best of the best. The NBC Olympic folks are just phenomenal. They won’t make you look bad. I have to say, though, that one of the producers has pink eye, so watch out!
How do you handle the negative headlines that have plagued the Games when you’re anchoring such a joyous event?
There’s a pre-show where that’s addressed. And within the body of the opening ceremony, we do very clearly [acknowledge] that this is a country with a lot of challenges. In the end, it’s really about the spirit and the joy that [Brazilians] bring in dealing with [the problems].
So I assume everything is fine with your hotel room?
Yes, it is. We haven’t had any issues. I did, however, just feel a mosquito.
NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad from Maracana Stadium airs Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m ET/PT.
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