"I’m Boring and Normal"
Meredith Vieira is late, threading her way through the tables at the Cafe Luxembourg, a few blocks from the television studio where her chat show The View is broadcast live every day. She’s beaming and plowing her way to her seat with a bag from the housewares store Gracious Home, one of the most visible working mothers in television, carrying a flag that says "home." This is days after her birthday, and the Web is buzzing with rumors that Katie Couric has made up her mind to leave The Today Show for the CBS Evening News; the whispers of "Meredith Vieira, Meredith Vieira" as a possible Couric replacement will soon send gossips in hot pursuit. [And of course, since this story went to press, Vieira was indeed chosen as Couric’s replacement.]
For almost nine years now, Vieira has spent mornings perched at the table of wise cracking, fast-talking women on ABC’s The View, running the show with a packet of index cards, salting her comments with intros and setups. She’s the cool, sexy, freewheeling spirit who says whatever’s on her mind. "In many ways, I’m boring and normal," Vieira says. "I live in the suburbs, I have kids and a dog." But drab reality turns scintillating and funny in this woman’s mouth. She talks about hating to wear underwear. She jokes, with frequent throaty laughs, about living with three teenagers and her husband, Richard Cohen, a craggily handsome writer and former news producer with multiple sclerosis: "I was playing him at pool last night. Now, the man’s legally blind, and he has trouble walking. He can’t even see which one is the cue ball, which is the eight ball. And he beats me every time!"
Close up, it’s obvious that stylists have worked on Vieira’s head this morning. Her lovely deep-set eyes are shaded halfway across the lid, and her longish highlighted hair, with two wings swept back, might have blonde strands — or are those silvered? Laugh lines radiate around her eyes, and no, she hasn’t been stretched taut surgically. "That slippery slope," she calls cosmetic surgery. "My goal is to avoid it, but my god, I’m in a visual medium. I’m only 52. Nobody’s asked yet." (We feel such affection for someone who uses the phrase "only 52.")
She wears a crisp blue-striped blouse, black slacks, and shoes so forgettable they must be loafers. She looks pulled together in a generic way, not trying too hard, as if she could run to the grocery store looking good but not threatening. ABC dresses her. "If I were providing my wardrobe, I’d be off the air," Vieira says. Her native costume? "Jeans, bell-bottoms, peasant blouses — I’m from that generation. Clogs…."
"It’s Good to Second-Guess"
As a thirty-something network news reporter with a golden future, she famously left 60 Minutes in 1991 when its producers wouldn’t let her take the mommy track. After 60 Minutes, she stayed on as a part-time correspondent and host for newsmagazine shows on CBS and ABC. But any qualms she had about trading in the prestige and pressure of journalism for daytime television evaporated once she took her seat on The View in 1997: "A couple days of being ashamed, and then I went, ‘Oh, this is great.’" And she loved getting home before her children arrived from school. Four years ago, she was courted by CBS to host its morning show, but after a period of agony, she passed on that, emerging with a fatter contract from ABC, including her own production company, and a second job hosting the daytime edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The game show, all bells and whistles and flashing lights, is a blast, she says: "You have fun, you learn something, and people walk away with money." In addition to her seven news Emmys, she has won yet another Emmy for hosting Millionaire, along with the distinction of being the longest-running woman game show host in history.