The waterworks started early on Monday’s premiere of The Meredith Vieira Show. Nine minutes in, the host of NBC Universal’s latest entry into the syndicated daytime television market was a veritable Niagara of happy tears.
“Oh my gosh!” Vieira blubbered as her adult sons Ben and Gabriel—who she’d thought were going to miss her debut because of far-flung jobs in China and Washington state—made a surprise appearance in Studio 6A. The 60-year-old Vieira, apple-cheeked and sporting jeans and a navy jacket with white piping, seemed to melt into a puddle as she threw her arms around her boys.
Also on hand to enwrap viewers in a national group hug were her husband, former television news producer Richard Cohen (who was brandishing a cane, as he suffers from multiple sclerosis and is legally blind) and their daughter, Lily—who, not surprisingly given her DNA, showed a lot of on-camera presence herself. She told her mom, theatrically, “I kind of think you should be embarrassed a little bit” as she presented an apparently unexpected video in which the whole family dished on Vieira.
We learned that she swears like a sailor, likes “a tall glass of wine,” both drives and cooks recklessly, and bursts into sobs as the least provocation. Lily told how she once found her mother sitting in front of the television and crying. “I just watched a horribly sad commercial,” Vieira had explained. It was about a family that had discarded their trusty old mop for a new, improved model. They had kicked the old mop out of the house and slammed the door. “And that’s where she lost it,” Lily confided.
The moist emotions were at once staged for television and overpoweringly real. And it wouldn’t be the last time, dear reader, that the proceedings would get weepy during Vieira’s inaugural hour as a daytime doyenne.
“Oh, I’m gonna have a heart attack!” she warned her amped-up studio audience, composed mostly of shrieking and clapping middle-aged women—the program’s demographic sweet spot. “This is what it takes to get my family together. Thank you, syndication!”
Suddenly the whole country was mainlining Meredith. (Well, maybe not the whole country, but I’ll go ahead and predict strong numbers for the Vieira show’s first outing.)
Both the energy and the production values of the program were sky-high as the house band, percussionist Everett Bradley leading the all-women MVPs, played and sang up a storm, yielding only to a few Broadway production numbers (from Aladdin, Chicago and Mamma Mia, with lyrics changed to be Vieira-specific) that might have been choreographed by Busby Berkley.
Meredith did some high-kicking with the Rockettes, and then breezed through a checklist of daytime staples: Fabulous prizes? Check (HP X360 laptops for everyone in the audience). Celebrity guests? Check (Jennifer Lopez, dishing on her “unsexy mom” moments, her kids, her dating life and, of course, plugging every conceivable showbiz project she’s involved in at the moment; a not-ready-for-2 p.m. coupling scene was featured in the movie trailer that was shown.) Fun and games? Check (J Lo and Today show fourth-hour cohost Hoda Kotb joined Vieira in “Car-aoke,” in which Vieira and Kotb tunelessly and hammily belted out pop songs while JLo, at the wheel of a green-screened speeding convertible, tried to guess their titles. “You have to calm down. You’re crazy. Stop drinking,” Vieira quipped to the manic Kotb).
Inspiring human-interest stories? Check (interviews with and a performance by members of the pink-tutued Dancing Dreams troupe—girls who are fighting serious physical disabilities to realize their aspirations to dance. You’d have to be utterly hard-hearted not to have been moved when Vieira announced that they’d soon be taking the New York City Ballet’s stage at Lincoln Center; this time, it was women in the audience who were crying.)
All in all, a jam-packed, fun-filled, tear-streaked debut. The question will be whether Vieira—who succeeded on The View, the Today show and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?—can sustain the frenzied level of get-up-and-go promised by her grand entrance, after a few years off the grid.
Much money, and the hopes of a gigantic media conglomerate, hang in the balance, to say nothing of the dreams of a suburban mother of three.
“You wanna know why I’m doing this?” Vieira told her audience. “I’m doing this because I missed you.”