MIAMI — Meredith Vieira is stocking up on stationary.
The former “Today” anchor and panelist on “The View” is set to return to daytime TV in the fall as host of the syndicated game show “25 Words or Less,” from Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television. Vieira is a 15-time Emmy winner who has worked all over the dial as a host, news anchor, producer and editor. But she is unabashed in her love of watching and hosting game shows.
“I like a challenge and I love game,” Vieira told Variety as she made the rounds of TV station general managers here at the annual National Association of Television Program Executives conference. Based on a board game, “25 Words or Less” pairs contestants with celebrities in an effort to guess a list of five words using less than 25 words in total. The half-hour strip had a three-week test run last summer on a handful of Fox-owned stations.
Vieira wasn’t in the market for a new show, but she fell for the word-play of “25 Words” and the team of producers behind the show: Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky of Is or Isn’t Entertainment and actor Mary McCormack and her husband, director-producer Michael Morris. She also liked the fact that the game was new to television. McCormack discovered the board game, created by Bruce Sterten, and championed it as an adaptation for TV.
“When the game is good and moves fast, the work goes by so quickly — it’s fun,” Vieira said.
Vieira, who is repped by ICM Partners, knows whereof she speaks. She logged 11 seasons as host of the syndicated version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” from 2002 through 2013.
During those years, Vieira sent a hand-written letter to every single contestant who passed through the chair, thanking them for being on the quiz show. There are strict rules about how much contact a host can have with a contestant during the taping of a game show — a legacy of the 1950s quiz show scandals — but Vieira always felt “such a disconnect” when each “Millionaire” contestant was finally led off the set.
“Writing a letter was a nice way to put a little period at the end of their experience,” Vieira said. “To let them know we appreciate them.”
Vieira sees her job on “25 Words” as akin to hosting a party. She’s there to make sure everyone has a good time.
“My job is to make the contestants comfortable,” she said. “I’m there to keep them relaxed enough to be themselves and have fun with the game.”
In addition to her time on “Millionaire,” Vieira hosted her own talk show for NBCUniversal for two seasons in 2014-2016. She has no illusions about how tough it is to draw an audience in daytime these days.
“I have the luxury of picking the projects I really want to work on,” Vieira said. “This show just appealed to me. I said yes because in the worst-case scenario I get to know a bunch of wonderful people. In the best-case scenario, it actually works.”