Meredith Vieira surely is no stranger to daytime television, but she now finds having her own name on a program “really scary.”
She returns to home screens weekdays when “The Meredith Vieira Show” premieres in national syndication Monday (Sept. 8). She knows what she wants from it, including a comfortable feel on a set designed to resemble her home … but in a field that has seen enduring successes (“Rachael Ray”) and relatively brief runs (“Katie”), she knows it could go either way.
“I use that word ‘authenticity,’ ” the ever-candid Vieira told reporters at the recent Television Critics Association summer press tour, “and I think that’s the keyword with an audience. I think that they can smell a fake a mile away … not that the shows that have failed are because the people who front them are phony, but I think that they want ‘real,’ and they want to connect with somebody.
“In the shows that I have done in the past,” adds Vieira, “particularly ‘The View’ and ‘Today,’ what has struck me the most is how significant daytime television is to the viewers. They connect with it in such a personal way. When I have folks come up to me, it’s never like, ‘Oh, Meredith Vieira.’ It’s always almost like I’m their mother. Some say, ‘You remind me of my grandmother,’ which I don’t love.”
Vieira says she’d been approached earlier about doing her own talk show, but she wasn’t interested until she started talking with NBCUniversal and Rich Sirop, who had been her executive producer on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and keeps that role on her new venture.
She explains, “I miss the people who come up to me and say, ‘Gee, you made a difference in my life’ or ‘I was going through a hard time, and you made me feel better,’ or whatever it was … those things. That’s the power of television, particularly daytime. You talk about what a wasteland it is, but it can do so much to help people.”
As well as bringing a chair from her house (“My family revolted, and they said, ‘They cannot have more than that’ “), Vieira also is bringing Everett Bradley — a percussionist who has played with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band — as her music director and her “dear friend” Jon Harris as her announcer.
Premiere-week guests include Jennifer Lopez (Monday), Seth Rogen, his wife Lauren Miller and Mel B (Tuesday), Jessica Alba and paralyzed Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen (Wednesday), Seth Meyers (Thursday) and Howie Mandel (Friday).
Originating from the real 30 Rock in New York, each hour of “The Meredith Vieira Show” will start with a “List” of whatever Vieira feels like discussing that day, and each week will feature a different service dog to be given to someone on the Friday.
Whatever the outcome, Vieira intends to take it with her typical “it is what it is” approach. “I know what it is to be in syndication and to launch a show in syndication,” she reflects. “And if it fails, I’m not going to die … but I’m hoping for the best.”