Meredith Vieira has learned some lessons over her 44 years in broadcasting. One is to listen to your gut. Another is to be true to yourself. And a third is to be willing to take a risk.
Vieira got her start in broadcasting in 1975 after graduating from Tufts University in Massachusetts, working as an afternoon radio announcer on WORC Worcester. Later, she moved back home to Providence, Rhode Island, where she worked as an on-air reporter for WJAR. Eventually, she made her way to WCBS New York with a short detour to WBBM Chicago. In 1989, she landed her dream job: correspondent on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
At the same time, she also had landed another dream job: wife and mother. She had just given birth to her first child, Benjamin, and balancing work and family was proving hard. She worked part time at 60 Minutes for two years and was about to come back full time when she learned she was pregnant again. This time, 60 Minutes boss Don Hewitt declined to allow her to continue part-time so she had to make a choice. She chose her family.
“60 Minutes was the only job in the business that I had always wanted,” Vieira said. “It was hard to let go of that dream, but I slept well that night because I knew it was the right decision. My family was first and foremost in my heart and my mind, and my job was doing damage to that.”
Blazing an Intuitive Path
She’s often followed her own intuition as she guided her career.
After leaving 60 Minutes, she didn’t spend much time unemployed. She worked as a correspondent for ABC News’ Turning Point and in 1996 was asked to audition for a new talk show, The View.
“The View was something I never would have considered,” she said. “I saw myself as a journalist. But I went on the audition and discovered I really liked it. But I thought, ‘That’s it, I won’t be called back.’ ”
Obviously, she was called back and went on to serve as The View’s first moderator, appearing on the show from 1997 to 2006.
“When we auditioned for Barbara [Walters], Meredith was in the group of people who were clicking immediately,” said Joy Behar, who was on The View’s original panel with Vieira. “She’s one of those people that everybody likes. She has a bit of an edge, she’s funny and she’s very teasable.”
Vieira left The View in 2006 because she got the call to do a bigger job: become co-anchor on NBC’s Today after Katie Couric departed to become anchor of the CBS Evening News.
“Whenever people ask me who, of all the people in broadcasting, is the person you most wish you could emulate, who the person is you wish you could be one-fourth as awesome as, I always say Meredith,” said Hoda Kotb, co-anchor of Today with Savannah Guthrie and co-host of Today’s third hour with Jenna Bush Hager.
“There is no one like her in this industry,” Kotb said. “She shows that you can be kind and you can make it. You can be compassionate and you can succeed in an industry that seems filled with people with sharp elbows and sharp knives.”
While Vieira fit right in with the Today crew, the hours didn’t fit her at all, which led her to resign her post after four years. NBC asked her to stay another year, which she did.
“I’m really not a morning person and I prep for everything, whether it’s a cooking segment or interviewing a president, so I was just constantly working and I was barely sleeping,” she said. “I knew the time was right to try something different.”
NBC wasn’t ready to let her go so the network kept her on as a special correspondent, and she ended up working the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And then from 2014-16, she starred in and executive produced an eponymous talk show for NBC’s syndication division.
Game Shows on the Side
Meanwhile, from 2002-13, she also worked as the host of the syndicated version of Disney’s long-running game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a gig she didn’t give up even while she was also co-anchoring Today
“When the game show appeared, I thought, ‘That’s another path to follow.’ I’ve always been willing to veer off course and I think that’s ended up being very helpful to me,” Vieira said. “It’s made me more valuable within the industry and given me the ability to shape career around family as opposed to fitting in family around career.”
The latest turn in Vieira’s career path came last year when Stephen Brown, executive VP of programming and development for Fox Television Stations, approached her to host a new game show: 25 Words or Less.
“I’ve been trying to work with her for years, but she was never available,” Brown said. “I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world. She’s established in the minds of the audience and she has credibility, but she also has this great sense of fun.”
Fox tested 25 Words or Less in five markets last summer. It did well enough that Fox picked it up and sold it into national syndication to debut this fall.
“It was the launch of a game that’s never been aired before, which was challenging and sounded exciting,” Vieira said. “I really love L.A. and my daughter’s out here, so I thought, ‘I’m going to come and give it a try, what’s the worst than can happen?’ ”
For Vieira, the best typically happened: The show was picked up and now there are 165 episodes in the can for season one with the potential for a season-two pickup.
After all her years in broadcasting, Vieira has learned many things but perhaps the biggest lesson is just to be herself. It’s brought her this far.
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