Despite jitters, a new day dawns on NBC for Vieira

The former `View' co-host compares `Today' debut to the `first day of school'

September 14, 2006|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

In the latest move in the network news shows' game of musical chairs, an admittedly nervous Meredith Vieira made her debut yesterday morning on NBC's Today, in a show whose jocularity overshadowed its attempts at hard news.

The new co-host managed to flub only a couple of lines. After having evidently rehearsed the show's ubiquitous "throw" to commercials - "But first, this is Today on NBC" - Vieira instead said, "We'll be back in a moment, but today ... " Abashed, she corrected herself - "But first!" - then laughed and buried her face.

"Redo!" co-host Matt Lauer, perched beside her, commanded with a smile.

Later, she blew the line again. "I'll get this down," Vieira promised.

The notoriously outspoken Vieira, who was a host on ABC's The View, said she intended to be the "broad" in broadcasting.

"Don't do that," Lauer suggested.

Vieira arrived at the top-rated morning show as the replacement for Katie Couric, who made her debut last week on the CBS Evening News.

Today is television's most profitable program, and NBC used the occasion of Vieira's debut to unveil a new $15 million studio, with two floors and enough gadgetry to broadcast the show in high definition. When asked what he thought of the shiny, almost antiseptic new digs, Lauer said he would get used to them.

Viewers were given a tour, including Vieira's dressing room, where the nameplate by the door reads "TuTu LaRue," her high school nickname.

To Vieira, the launch seemed "like it's the first day of school, and I'm sitting next to the cutest guy."

Her three children appeared in a taped sequence in which they wished her success on the show, told her not to "freak out," and made fun of her apparently limited cooking skills.

Chatting with weatherman Al Roker, Vieira said she was particularly fond of him because she'd had a hamster named Al as a child, but that he had died.

"He's in a coffee can in the backyard," Roker said, with mock severity.

Vieira later brandished a copy of People magazine that showed a muscular Lauer in a swimsuit on a beach. Lauer responded by displaying a 1988 Esquire magazine in which Vieira struck a sexy, leggy pose, for which she was criticized at the time.

"I had clothes on!" Vieira shot back, laughing.

NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams had flowers for Vieira and a prediction that she would enjoy working with Lauer: "You'll love this. Once in a while, he takes his shirt off. It's fun."

Vieira's only real task yesterday involved an interview on politics with Tim Russert, the host of Meet the Press. When she asked him whether the Democrats might take the House or the Senate if the election were held now, he replied, "I had a feeling you might ask me that on your first day."

"That's because you're a genius," she said. (Russert opined that the House would fall to the loyal opposition.)

Vieira, who will retain her job as host of the syndicated show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, was also asked yesterday to give the bad news to one of three couples vying to be married on Today. Once the two remaining couples had competed in a cake-decorating contest, Vieira scooped up some cake and planted it on Lauer's nose.

"Revenge is a dish best served cold," Lauer responded, implying some future punishment.

"You were going to shove my face in it," Vieira said in her defense.

"I would never have done that to you on your first day," he said soothingly.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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