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Vieira Officially Joins Today

NBC officially named The View co-host Meredith Vieira to be the new co-anchor for its top-rated morning show Today, replacing Katie Couric, who is headed to CBS to anchor The Evening News and contribute to 60 Minutes.

Vieira is expected remain with The View through May sweeps and join Today in early September.

NBC released its news shortly after 11 a.m. ET Thursday, just as Vieira revealed her new job on-air.  After 9 years on The View, Vieira said, “Change is important and if you are going to grow; you have to be willing to change and get off the path.”

Vieira’s mix of talk-show hosting and experience in network news were considered widely attractive to NBC. Before joining The View in 1997, she spent 20 years as a correspondent for CBS News and ABC News, on newscasts and magazine shows including 60 Minutes.

At a press conference Thursday in New York, Vieira said she was first approached by NBC Universal Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker about the job last October. Zucker picked her up at The View’s studios and drove her to a taping of syndicated game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, which she hosts. During the five-minute ride, he asked her to consider a move to Today if Couric, who was mulling her own future, opted to leave for CBS.

Vieira said her initial instinct was to “write off” the overture because she had “gone down this path five years ago with CBS.” But, after discussing such a move with her husband and children, she went on to explore the idea further, taking a “blind date” with co-host Matt Lauer for dinner at his apartment in December and meeting with Today executive producer Jim Bell and other NBC News executives. Vieira also floated the idea with her View boss – and former Today host – Barbara Walters, who she said did not steer her one way or another.

In the last four weeks, Vieira says, she decided to take the plunge. “I want to make everyone proud,” Vieira said, joking that the idea was “truly conceived in the back of Jeff’s car.”

Now that she has taken the Today role, NBC News President Steve Capus says he would also like to use her elsewhere on the network. “I would love to have her on any number of the NBC News platforms, whether it’s Nightly News or the Today show or Dateline,” he said.  

Vieira also said she has not yet spoken with Buena Vista about whether or not she will continue in her role as host of Millionaire for the remaining two years on her contract. Vieira currently tapes the entire year of shows between September and December, shooting four shows a day three or four days a week.  The show currently tapes at 2 p.m., and Vieira said that one possibility would be simply to move up the taping schedule to begin at noon. 

As expected, Zucker cited Hugh Downs’ hosting of both Today and game show Concentration concurrently in the 1960s as precedent should Vieira continue in her Millionaire role. Vieira’s mix of talk-show hosting and experience in network news were considered widely attractive to NBC.

Of his new co-host, Lauer said, Vieira has all the qualifications to be a strong morning anchor. “We have an embarrassment of riches on the air at NBC news and now we’re adding Meredith,” he said.

Lauer says the show will change slowly as the new team gels. “The only thing we can do sensibly is get together and see what works,” he said, “then you’ll see Meredith’s imprint.”