Meredith Vieira: Five Choices That Changed My Life



It’s a three-block stroll to Vieira’s office from the Rockefeller Center rooftop where she’s just done a photo shoot. But she’s barely made it 10 yards before the first fan approaches her. Vieira responds by embracing her like an old friend. Mothers with small children follow. “Meredith, I just have to tell you how much I love you,” another fan says. “Oh, honey, come here!” she responds, offering a hug.

Twenty minutes and 15 hugs later, Vieira has finally made it to her office next to the set for her upcoming daytime talk show, The Meredith Vieira Show, debuting Sept. 8. (Check local listings for times.) If these women on the street are any indication, Vieira is in for a warm response from viewers. That doesn’t mean she’s feeling overconfident. “There’s a lot riding on this,” she admits. “It’s the first time the success or failure of something is all on me.”

True, she doesn’t have four other women with her, as she did on The View, or cohost Matt Lauer, as she did during her nearly five-year stint on the Today show. Yet Vieira, 60, is doing what she has always done best: taking a risk. “My decisions have always been gut-driven,” she admits. “It may not be the smartest thing, but it’s worked for me.” Helping matters is the support of her husband of 28 years, Richard Cohen, 66, and their three children, Ben, 25, Gabe, 23, and Lily, 21. “They all said to me, ‘Don’t not take the show because you’re afraid.’ Ben said, ‘You always tell us to challenge ourselves; the same goes for you.’ ” While she doesn’t have to worry about the sort of office politics that recently caused turmoil on the Today set—”My heart was broken for them. They were hurting. I just wanted to tell them that people still loved them,” Vieira says—that doesn’t mean fear isn’t a factor. “I’m scared before every show,” she says. “I jump into the deep end time and time again, and I’m not a good swimmer. But I start to figure out how to dog-paddle, and things start to feel okay.” She sat down with People’s Kate Coyne to talk about the leaps of faith that made all the difference.

1 | My Parents Chose My Education

• My parents putting me in a single-sex school had a great impact on who I am. I attended an all-girls Quaker school in Providence called the Lincoln School. I started there at age 2 and went through to the end. I have three older brothers, but because of this school, suddenly I had a sisterhood that I never would have had otherwise, and an incredible bond was formed. It was right at the beginning of the feminist movement, and we were encouraged to use our minds in a way that was so empowering. From the start we were in uniforms, so it was about what we were doing with our heads, not what we were wearing on our bodies. We were encouraged to be loud in class, debate was a good thing, and all of it made me feel like the strongest person in the world. My parents wanted to raise a very confident daughter, in a culture where women weren’t always embraced that way. They wanted me to reach for the stars and to know that those stars were available to me, even though some of them really weren’t yet—but my parents wanted me to believe I could reach them nonetheless.

2 | I Accepted a Job Even Though I Had No Idea How to Do It

• When I was a senior in college, I didn’t know what I was going to do. But in January of my senior year, with only six months until graduation, I took a course in broadcast journalism. The last thing we did was a radio assignment, and somebody from CBS Radio came in to critique it. He listened to what I’d recorded and afterward said, “I need to see you after class.” I thought, “Oh Jesus, what did I do wrong?” I wasn’t doing that great to begin with—it was lucky I was going to graduate—and so I went out into the hall and he said, “You have a huge future. I want you to intern at WEEI,” a Boston radio station. The smartest thing I did was to say, “Okay!” And I wasn’t even interested in journalism! But I still said yes. He said, “Come prepared to rip wires.” So on my first day I showed up in overalls, because I had no idea he meant ripping wire copy from the Associated Press, Reuters and UPI that came in over teletype machines—I thought he meant actually ripping wires out of a wall. So I was in overalls, and everyone looked at him like, “Oh my goodness, who did you just hire?” I mean, they were cute overalls, but still.

3 | I Left a Job Even Though I Loved It

• As many people know, when I was a correspondent at 60 Minutes and pregnant with Gabe, my second child, the show’s chief, Don Hewitt, told me I had to come back to work full-time soon after I gave birth. And so I said no to Don Hewitt. When confronted with either “You stay here full-time or you’re out of here,” I said, “I’m not staying here,” and that night I slept like a baby—even though 60 Minutes was the only job I had truly coveted in this business. But I knew it was the right decision. It was like this weight had been lifted off me. I had become this poster child, not by choice, for “You Can Have It All,” and no matter how hard I tried, I came to realize, “No, you can’t.” Or at least, I couldn’t. And I’m so glad, because it led me in a whole other direction. I had rarely watched daytime television because I was working, and so when The View came along, I didn’t consider it at first because I thought, “I don’t even know what to do!” But I went to the audition, and I was embarrassed to admit after all those years of “serious journalism” that I really enjoyed it, that I enjoyed getting to have an opinion! And then I got the job, which, obviously, ultimately led to Today, which led to where I am now. Because I said no to Don, it made me open myself up to other possibilities. I’d been moving in a straight line, totally linear, and mecca was 60 Minutes. Well, mecca turned out to be … meh. For me, anyway. It didn’t work with my life, and so I had to veer in another direction.

4 | My Husband Chose to Tease Me

• I’ve been married for 28 years, and I would marry my husband again tomorrow. The decision I made with him was more “You’re a jerk, and I’m going to marry you.” Like with saying no to Don Hewitt, I just knew it was right. To this day I can’t put my finger on it: There was just something about him. It was maybe the way he teased me—it was obnoxious, but there was something there. I was able to realize, “He’s teasing me because I think he kind of likes me.” And I loved his wit—he wore it on his sleeve—and hey, I loved the way he looked. I was working in CBS’s Midwest bureau in Chicago the first time I met him. He was a producer working with Lesley Stahl, and he came in carrying her bags, the poor guy, and there was something to be said for that too. And in the end I just went with it. Once that happened, everything great that came with it followed right along.

5 | The Choice My Son Wishes I’d Made Differently

• When I was pregnant with Ben, I did a profile on Ben & Jerry’s. I drove up to their headquarters in Vermont, and Ben and Jerry, really nice guys, asked me, “Do you have names for the baby?” and I said, “Actually, if it’s a boy, we’re naming him Ben, after his grandfather.” And Ben said, “Then we’re giving him a lifetime supply of ice cream!” I said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m a journalist—I can’t accept that.” And to this day my son Ben will say, “You could have said yes! No one would have known!” I can just see him lying on a therapist’s couch someday saying, “It all started when my mother wouldn’t take that ice cream….”

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