Brand New Today
Even when she is gussied up for a fancy photo shoot, Vieira's self-deprecating, denim-devoted Everymom quality can't help but bust out. And that's exactly what NBC was banking on when they hired Vieira, 52, away from her nine-year gig as a cohost on The View to take Katie Couric's spot on Today, a job that starts Sept. 13.
"I never thought there would be a place that would combine The View and 60 Minutes, but it does," says Vieira of Today. "You have to be as comfortable sitting down with George Bush as you do dressing up in a costume and making an idiot of yourself."
And she is, although it may take some time for Vieira to rise to her new colleagues' level of adventurousness. When the network suggested Vieira spend a day bonding with each of her cohosts, Matt Lauer invited her for a round of golf. Fine. But then Al Roker suggested they go scuba diving in Bermuda, and Ann Curry wanted to take her skydiving. "I said, 'What?!'" Vieira laughs. "I'm not doing that. I might have a heart attack. So they said, 'What do you like to do?' and I said, 'Well, I like to read.'"
Where in the world does Lauer stand on Vieira's arrival? "The fact is, she comes to this show with more experience and a better résumé than any host previously," he says. "Look at Katie, Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel: None of them, or myself, had the career experience and life experience that she does. And in the six months or so that I've gotten to know her, I have not detected one ounce of diva in her."
Since Vieira famously left her "dream job" on 60 Minutes in 1991 to focus more on her growing family, her kids Ben, 17, Gabe, 15, and Lily, 13, have remained the center of her nanny-free universe. Same goes for her husband, journalist Richard Cohen, 58, who has MS and battled colon cancer during her tenure on The View. "Our family is so much stronger for it," Vieira says. "We have much more empathetic kids for having experienced life with illness."
No doubt her family's struggles will be fodder for Today show discussions. But Vieira hopes that she doesn't draw comparisons to Couric's personal ordeals. "Katie lost her husband," she says, "and was able to take that loss and turn it into something incredibly positive [by increasing public awareness of colon cancer]. But I don't want to come in with my list: 'I have MS in my family. And my husband had two colon cancer operations.'"
On the other hand, she adds, "I have experiences that many people share—whether it's mothering three kids or illness in a family or aging in America—and any light I can shed on those situations I think is good."
But here's one deep, dark secret NBC execs may not like hearing: "She's a night person," says her husband with a laugh. "Our only trauma will be trying to get Meredith out of bed." Vieira plans to leave her home north of New York City by 4:30 a.m. to arrive by 5 each day. "Or maybe 5 till 5, because Matt's here at 5 and I want to beat him in," she jokes.
So did Vieira receive any last-minute advice from a certain CBS Evening News anchor who previously had her job? "I don't really know Katie," she says. "But I met her on the day of the announcement [of my hiring] and she couldn't have been nicer. We joked about people coming up to us saying, 'How are you going to handle the pressure?' We both said, 'How odd. Why not just say 'Good luck'?"