Syndicators seem determined to provide full employment for former “Today” show hosts, undaunted by Jane Pauley and Katie Couric’s experiences. “The Meredith Vieira Show” completes the hat trick, and if her willingness to bare her personal life and play along with almost anything is a guide, she might be more temperamentally suited to the gig than those predecessors. Vieira’s premiere was all over the place, from introducing her family to singing karaoke to a heart-tugging segment on young girls with cerebral palsy doing ballet. Daytime TV is a marathon, but Vieira would appear to have a fighting chance of bucking high talk-mortality rates.
Between all the time on “Today” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” Vieira didn’t require an introduction to much of her would-be audience, but she dutifully went through one nevertheless, describing her decision to return as being because “I missed you,” and her goal to “make a little difference in everyone’s life.”
OK, so plenty of schmaltz there — and maybe all the millions garnered by those few hosts who survive had something to do with it, too.
Beyond her husband and daughter, Vieira was surprised (unless she’s pretty accomplished actress) by having her grown sons attend, too, quickly giving way to a medley of Broadway tunes. She then conducted what amounted to the softest of non-interviews with first guest Jennifer Lopez, before getting to what seemed like the main reason for having her on (other than promoting an upcoming Universal movie): Having Lopez judge a karaoke contest between Vieira and “Today’s” Hoda Kotb.
Like the set — a meant-to-be-homey, actually-looks-cheesy replica of a living room — the segment tried too hard to create a fun, welcoming environment. But Vieira pushed onward, switching gears from one situation and mood to the next at a pace that risked inducing whiplash.
To a cynic’s eye all this can feel pretty silly, but Vieira’s tenure on “Today” — and status as more of a TV personality than a committed news person — allows her to make those kind of leaps, and, helpfully, not appear to be taking herself too seriously for much of it. That’s important, because even with NBC using its formidable assets to prop her up in terms of guests and giveaways, fronting one of these shows demands a host who’s good company, regardless of who’s in the chair (or couch) across from them.
Vieira’s support system includes a band leader and announcer, but at least initially she didn’t use them much, which is a promising sign. Because while it’s still early, she might just be one of those rare personalities who can sustain a daytime talkshow without needing to phone a friend.