April 6, 2006

Free-spirit Vieira to replace Couric on ‘Today’

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Meredith Vieira, the free-wheeling
veteran newswoman on ABC's daytime TV chat show "The View,"
will replace Katie Couric as co-host of the nation's top
morning show, NBC's "Today," the network said on Thursday.

Official word of the move came a day after Couric announced
she would leave "Today" after 15 years on that show and assume
the anchor chair in September on the third-ranked but growing
"CBS Evening News."

"I'm very honored that NBC has asked me to co-host the
'Today' show," Vieira said on Thursday's broadcast of "The
View," prompting applause from her colleagues and from the
studio audience. "I could not possibly have been in this
position today had it not been for all of you."

At a news conference later, Vieira, 52, said she would
likely leave "The View," which she has co-hosted since its 1997
debut, at the end of May and make her first appearance on
"Today" in early September.

"Today," which airs for three hours each weekday morning,
is one of NBC's biggest properties, generating an estimated
$600 million in ad revenue and $250 million in profit each year
for the network, controlled by General Electric Co.

In moving from ABC to "Today," Vieira will follow in the
footsteps of such broadcast news stars as Couric, Jane Pauley
and her current "View" co-host, Barbara Walters, co-anchoring a
show that has run on NBC for 54 years.


Asked what she would bring to "Today" that was different
from her immediate predecessor, Vieira displayed a flash of the
humor that distinguishes her on "The View," a live weekday talk
show catering mainly to female viewers.

"I'm going to have to be reined-in a little," she said.
"It's funny, I had 20 years of news where I never said
anything. Now, every other word out of my mouth is 'orgasm.'
... So, I'm going to spend the next few months trying to calm
down a little."

Vieira said she was unconcerned about being criticized by
some conservatives for having expressed anti-Iraq war views on
"The View," including comments in which she said that "the
entire pretext for war" had "been built on lies."

"Part of 'The View' was to give views on various issues,
and there is nobody, I would argue, that doesn't have bias,"
she said. "It's my responsibility once I'm on ('Today') to put
those aside, because they have no place on this show."

Earlier in the day on "The View," Vieira recounted that her
most embarrassing moment on that show came during a fashion
segment in which "my boob fell out of my dress and no one
noticed." Her breast was partially exposed by accident when she
was demonstrating how women could lift their bustlines.

Couric, whose upbeat, breezy style is credited with keeping
"Today" the top-rated morning show on U.S. television for the
past decade, plans to leave the program in late May.

In September, she will make broadcast history as the first
woman designated as the sole permanent anchor of a major
network evening newscast as she assumes the chair once occupied
by Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. Couric, 49, also will
contribute to the news magazine, "60 Minutes."

Vieira, a mother of three and eight-time Emmy Award winner,
spent more than a decade at CBS News, where she worked as a
correspondent and editor for news magazines "60 Minutes" and
"West 57th." She began her career as a news announcer for
WORC-Radio in Worcester, Massachusetts.

She also has two years left on her contract with the
syndicated game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," which she
has hosted since 2002. Vieira said she was prepared to finish
her stint there but had not yet discussed the issue with that
show's producers.