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Meredith Vieira is poised to enter a crowded daytime field next year. The talk show class of fall 2014 will include established incumbents (Ellen DeGeneres), a revamped version of Vieira’s former daytime home (The View) and possibly a crop of sophomore talkers (Queen Latifah and Bethenny Frankel both have shows bowing this fall). And the trend in daytime this season — epitomized by the success of Steve Harvey — has been the feel-good, uplift-not-tear-down daytime milieu that Vieira also plans to mine.
But the veteran of NBC’s Today show, where she appeared July 10 to talk about her just-announced endeavor, is not worried. “I choose to put on blinders,” Vieira told The Hollywood Reporter. “If you start comparing what you’re doing to all these different shows, you can be overwhelmed by it. So I choose to somewhat ignore them.”
The Meredith Vieira Show will shoot in New York with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire producer Rich Sirop as executive producer. NBCUniversal Domestic Television will produce and distribute the show, which is likely to air on NBC-owned stations along with Ellen and Steve Harvey. The show’s set will feature replicas of Vieira’s actual living room furniture, which people who know describe as “horrible” care of the family’s dog and two cats, which use the couch as a scratching post. “We’re using my real furniture because I want people to see that my furniture is not as nice as theirs,” quips Vieira.
The show will feature a mix of lifestyle segments, games, giveaways and inspiring stories about everyday people.
“The whole idea is to entertain and hopefully inspire people,” explains Vieira. “I want it to be positive and hopefully combine my experiences with talk and broadcast journalism and also the game show [Who Wants to Be a Millionaire].”
There are also plans to have a band led by E Street Band percussionist Everett Bradley, who will banter with Vieira on-set. (The show’s pilot included a segment about Bradley’s work with children who stutter.) And she’s looking to bring a sidekick on a la Jimmy Kimmel Live’s Guillermo Rodriguez and Conan’s Andy Richter.
“If this works, it’s great, I hope,” said Vieira. “And if it doesn’t, I think it’s going to be a pleasant experience because I’m working with people I adore and have a track record with. And hopefully we’ll bring in young talent and show them that there’s a way to do television that isn’t nasty. That’s sort of my goal. It’s not grandiose.”
NBC first approached Vieira about segueing to daytime shortly after she left Today in spring 2011 and when she was still hosting the syndicated Millionaire (she taped her last episode of the latter in November 2012).
“I really wasn’t interested at all,” she recalls of those first daytime overtures. “First of all, I really wanted to decompress. I was tired of the grind that comes with doing Today. Even though I loved doing the show I felt I was never not preparing for it. I’d get off the air and within a few hours I’d be in prep mode again. I wasn’t spending enough time with my family or my friends. So after five years I thought, I’m going to go out on a high. And I wasn’t leaving NBC, I just didn’t want the daily grind that turned into pretty much a 24-hour deal. My head wasn’t in a place where I could even consider doing anything else.”
She admits to being irked by widespread media accounts that attributed her departure to her husband Richard Cohen’s ongoing struggle with multiple sclerosis. “A lot was written at the time about, ‘Oh she’s leaving to take care of her ailing husband,’ which wasn’t true. In fact he’s doing really well. He thinks I’m the sick one,” she laughed. “I just really needed to get off the merry-go-round.”
Of course her departure from Today set up what became a botched transition from Ann Curry to Savannah Guthrie and the toppling of the show’s 16-year morning news winning streak by ABC’s Good Morning America, which is has been firmly ensconced in the No. 1 position for more than a year.
“It’s just been a very tough time for the folks there,” said Vieira. “I hope that they’re coming out of it. I wasn’t there for it so I’m not going to pick it apart. Anybody who does that kind of show knows everything that goes into it. It’s such a tremendous amount of hard work and to be demoralized in any way just makes the burden that much greater.
“I also know some of the folks over at GMA and even CBS,” added Vieira. “And they’re all great people. And they’re all trying their best. It’s a competitive marketplace, so I get it. I totally get it. I just hate some of the mud slinging that’s gone on.”
Vieira is currently working on two specials for NBC News, with a third possibly in the offing. And she will be in Sochi, Russia, in February for the network’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. But her commitment to NBC News concludes with the Olympics. “They’ve been very supportive. They said if you want to do stuff and continue and have time, fantastic,” said Vieira. “The door is open. I just don’t how much time realistically I will have.”
Meanwhile, her former daytime show The View, is weathering its own transition; Jenny McCarthy joins the show next season, while original co-host Joy Behar will depart, Elisabeth Hasselbeck has already left and co-creator and executive producer Barbara Walters will depart at the end of the upcoming 17th season. Asked if she’d ever considered returning to The View, Vieira paused and then said: “No. And Barbara hasn’t called. I check my messages daily.”
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