Wednesday, November 27, 2002
New York Ready? Know the rules? Then let's play "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"!
Meredith Vieira is ...
A. Formerly a "60 Minutes" correspondent at CBS News, then, in the 1990s, a reporter for ABC News.
B. One of the co-hosts of ABC's gal gabfest "The View," where she has radiated poise, smarts and irreverence since its premiere in 1997.
C. Wife of journalist Richard Cohen and mother of Ben, 13; Gabe, 11; and Lily, 9.
D. All of the above.
You don't need a lifeline to make "D" your final answer as Vieira adds one more entry to her crowded resume: host of the syndicated, weekday version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
But despite the new job, Vieira doesn't mean to ...
A. Strike a blow against the male-dominated world of quiz-show hosts (though she has).
B. Stage a final repudiation of everything she stood for as a respected, award-winning TV journalist (that's just what a handful of news purists say).
C. Overshadow Regis Philbin, host of ABC's prime-time "Millionaire" when it burst on the scene in August 1999 until last season, when it sputtered from sight.
D. Work herself to death - although, at the end of one busy day recently, she acknowledges feeling tuckered out. Maybe that's because she has the flu.
After arriving at "The View" about 9 that morning, she had presided over the live telecast at 11 a.m. with fellow panelists Joy Behar, Star Jones and Lisa Ling (Barbara Walters was off).
Then, at 12:30, Vieira traveled several blocks to the ABC studios where "Millionaire" resides. On her stool in the familiar chrome and spotlit arena setting, she began taping four half-hours about 2 p.m.
By 6, she is done. The studio audience files out as she heads for her office, her voice now sounding raw.
The day before, her flu had kept her home in bed. But the kids, she reports, "were very sweet. They all made me get-well cards. Except Gabe. He said, 'What, is she gonna die?! She's not gonna die!' He's a pragmatist."
She outlines (or attempts to) her "Millionaire" regimen: Three out of every four weeks, on each of three afternoons, she tapes four segments. Don't bother with the math :quot; this routine, which began last summer, will yield enough episodes for the entire season by the time production wraps Dec. 13.
"Until then, I don't think about my schedule, I just stay in the moment," she says, laughing, "and it's fine. Because I really enjoy both shows. They're both a lot of fun to do.
"I'll be 49 in December, and I don't have any problem accepting jobs that are fun that I'm proud of."
Vieira got into broadcasting in 1975 as a reporter on radio, then TV, in her hometown of Providence, R.I. She joined CBS News in 1982.
Her subsequent career, while thriving, has been tempered with personal challenges, notably her husband's health problems. Cohen's multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed a quarter-century ago, has in recent years impaired his ability to walk and left him legally blind. He has also battled colon cancer.
Cohen is working on a memoir about coping with illness, says Vieira, who adds with a smile, "He's always two weeks from finishing it."
Her own goal, she says, "is to take care of my kids, to have a good marriage, and to have fun with what I do."
"Fun" was Vieira's final answer last summer when she turned down a bid to rejoin CBS News as anchor of its woebegone "The Early Show." She opted to stay at "The View" and star on the game show she already was a fan of. "I really got a kick out of watching it with my kids."
In this new version, Vieira strikes all the right notes. As each contestant takes the "hot seat," she is cordial, reassuring and - when she has the chance - a little cheeky.
And well-received: Among this season's freshman crop of daily syndicated shows, Vieira's "Millionaire" was second only to "Dr. Phil" in a recent Nielsen survey, with nearly 3 million households tuning in.