PEOPLE's TV critic says the ex-View cohost is the right woman for Today. What do you think?
Credit: Jason DeCrow/AP

A week after Katie Couric’s unsatisfactory debut on The CBS Evening News came Meredith Vieira’s first day as coanchor on Today, Couric’s old job. We’ll see how the ratings go, but viewers should have been happy at the end of Vieira’s first two hours. Just as dependably as in her years on The View, she was relaxed, game for anything – the right woman for any job. And I hope this puts to rest all that cruel gossip that the spot more rightly should have been offered to Joy Behar.

There’s Something About Meredith
She’s a laugher, and her laugh is looser, more spontaneous than Couric’s. (Diane Sawyer, on ABC’s Good Morning America, is a cooer – a mourning dove.) Vieira has a neighborly, social laugh. Plus, Today‘s new set nicely cushions her in a warm environment of beige, off-whites and daffodil-yellow accents – morning colors that work well with her energy.

Wednesday didn’t start off as a big news day, so Vieira sat cheerfully through inane segments introducing her to an audience that already knows her. What a to-do. I’m surprised Matt Lauer didn’t send white smoke up through a roof pipe to alert the fans outside in Rockefeller Plaza. The only time Vieira’s dignity was threatened was when Willard Scott and Gene Shalit linked their arms with hers and went off skipping as if she were their Dorothy and this was a special Wizard of Oz moment. I would have broken free and run off screaming.

The Matt and Mer Show
Vieira’s chemistry with Lauer seems perfectly natural. Now, does the fact that she’s older (52 to his 48) make a difference? I don’t mean that Vieira will seem motherly, and certainly not the opposite, a Mrs. Robinson or a Charlotte Rampling. But her soft, coanchor-of-a-certain-age attractiveness may give her a certain apartness, even superiority. If she’d worn glasses with her dark tailored suit, she could have been The Sopranos’ Dr. Melfi, gifted with a large back catalog of wisdom and advice.

The New View
Still, Lauer’s name comes first, and he had his own solo agenda to promote: The show featured a segment from his Dateline profile of former teacher Debra LaFave telling her side of how she came to sleep with a 14-year-old student. Now I know, and I still don’t care. Vieira’s only sitdown was with Tim Russert – politics – but it felt perfunctory, as if they couldn’t quite believe they were still rehashing the fallout of President Bush’s 9/11 speech. He had his head tilted at an angle that made it look as if it would fall off. Maybe Vieira was wishing she was back on The View talking with Barbara Walters. Could Princess Diana could really have been so deluded to think she could become first lady of the United States? Does anyone doubt it? But Vieira will grow her own story list, find her turf. Does anyone doubt it?