Among her legion of fans, Meredith Vieira is a warm TV presence who's reliably upbeat, quick-witted and always ready with a clever wisecrack.
Those who tune into Wednesday's The Meredith Vieira Show may be in for a surprise, then.
On her new daytime talker, the popular host, 60, strikes a serious note to speak candidly on a personal topic, one that has taken on immediate relevance in light of recent news stories involving a video showing NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée (and now wife) Janay Palmer.
Vieira reveals that, in the past, she, too, suffered in an abusive relationship.
"Every nine seconds," Vieira says on Wednesday's show, which she taped Tuesday, "a woman is abused or assaulted in this country. Every nine seconds this is going on."
She cites "this Twitter trend that's happening now – #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. It's a campaign of confessions of women who have experienced domestic violence, and what you realize when you read these Tweets is that it's a very, very complicated issue."
Vieira then describes her own situation. "I was in an abusive relationship many, many years ago as a young woman," she admits, also saying, "I want to explain to you why I stayed."
By way of personal background, "It started out, I loved this guy," she says. "It started out, we'd have a fight and he'd just sort of grab my arm. I didn't think a lot about it, and then it turned into pushing me into a wall and then it went beyond that, to [his] actually taking his hand and grabbing my face and saying, 'I could ruin your career if I wanted to and no one would watch you.' "
She admits, besides the fact "I'm a smart woman," that while this was taking place, she heard "a lot of people say, 'Well, who would stay in that situation?' Somebody who doesn't have the wherewithal to get out, the means to get out. [But] I had that. I had a job at the time, and I kept in this relationship."
Since then, she says, "I've done a lot of thinking about why, and I think part of it was fear. I was scared of him. I was scared if I tried to leave something worse could happen to me."
Further examining her reaction, she says, "Part of it was guilt, because every time we would have a fight he would then start crying and say, 'I promise I won't do it again,' and I would feel like maybe I contributed somehow to this – and they are saying this about Ray Rice's wife, that it takes two to tango."
Scalding Water in ShowerShe also shares other violent incidents with this man.
"There was the night, we shared an apartment, and he threw me into a shower, naked with scalding water, and then he threw me outside into the hallway," she says. "We lived in an apartment building, and I hid in the stairwell for two hours until he came again, crying, 'I promise I won't do this again.' "
Eventually, it ended. "I continued to stay in that relationship until I was offered a job in another state," she says, "and that's where I felt I had the ability to get away."
Underscoring her main point, that "domestic violence … is really, really a complicated issue," Vieira states, "It's not so easy to just get away. You think it would be, but it's not. Having said that, if my daughter Lily, who is now 21, was in an abusive relationship, even if she thought she loved this man, I would say, 'Go. Just go.' We didn't have shelters when this was happening to me. There was no hotline. I would say call the hotline."
She concludes by telling viewers, "If you are going through this, get yourself to a shelter, by all means tell somebody what's going on, let somebody know. That's just my experience with it, and I know it's rampant in this country, and we all have to accept the fact that it's not just an issue with the NFL – it's an issue with all of our lives, and until we take it seriously, more and more women are going to get abused."
To watch Vieira's entire segment, tune into the Wednesday episode of The Meredith Vieira Show (syndicated, check local listings).