NBC Hopes Vieira’s Transition is a Smooth One

New York (September 12, 2006) — Wednesday is a big day for NBC’s “Today” show, as television’s most popular morning show brings in Meredith Vieira to take Katie Couric’s place and moves into a flashy new studio set.

Couric’s exit didn’t put a dent in the show’s ratings dominance during the summer and now NBC hopes that viewers warm to Vieira, former panelist on “The View,” as Matt Lauer’s on-air partner.

“There has never been a team that is better prepared to do this job than the one we’ve got,” said Steve Capus, NBC News president.

Capus helped engineer NBC’s smooth evening transition from Tom Brokaw to Brian Williams two years ago. Given the “Today” show’s importance to the network — it’s the most profitable show on television and riding a ratings winning streak of more than a decade — Vieira can be forgiven a few deep breaths before the camera’s red light goes on.

“It’s just a great ensemble of people,” she said recently.

“I’m like the aunt who is coming in to the family. I’m going to not, at this point, go under the radar scope but just fit in and feel my way. I’m not going to go in there with a hammer.”

She’ll talk politics with Tim Russert on opening day, help on the show’s wedding segment and help lead a tour of the Rockefeller Center set, which was rebuilt in part because “Today” begins broadcasting in high definition on Wednesday. Lauer has the day’s big interview, with Debra LaFave, the teacher convicted for having sex with a teenage student.

Vieira expects her alarm clock to ring about 3 a.m. each weekday morning, and she’ll go to bed each evening between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Her teenage children won’t mind having the run of the house late, she said.

She will continue as host of the syndicated “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and said she’s gotten a head start by taping 60 of the new season’s 175 new shows.

The blunt, funny Vieira acknowledged she may have to tone things down a little in her new job — then, at a news conference, quickly answered a question about what her new beverage of choice in the morning will be by joking, “gin.”

“They asked for personality — my personality,” she said.

“It’s the big mistake they made. They’re getting it.”

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