Vieira Makes Debut As 'Today' Co-Host

Starting a new era on television's most popular morning show, Meredith Vieira made her debut Wednesday as Matt Lauer's partner on NBC's "Today" show.

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Starting a new era on television's most popular morning show, Meredith Vieira made her debut Wednesday as Matt Lauer's partner on NBC's "Today" show.

"I feel like it's the first day of school and I'm sitting next to the cutest guy," Vieira said at the show's opening. The longtime CBS newswoman and recent host on daytime's "The View" replaces Katie Couric.

The show also took the wraps off a rebuilt studio in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center after spending the summer in temporary digs, and began broadcasting in high definition.

"Today" hasn't lost in the morning ratings in more than a decade and is television's most profitable show, so NBC has a lot riding on Viera.

She quickly tried to make a connection with viewers, admitting nervousness and showing off the good-luck bracelet her husband and children gave her the night before. Introducing weatherman Al Roker, she noted she had a hamster named Al growing up.

Vieira also flashed a copy of a People magazine that pictured Lauer on a beach this summer, holding his daughter's hand and showing off rippling abs. Lauer threatened to show off an old Esquire where Vieira flashed her legs.

She then muffed the wording on her first "throw" to a commercial, tossing the magazine over her shoulder.

Vieira won't be completely abandoning the bawdy personality that came through during her years on "The View."

"I'm going to be 'the broad' in broadcasting," she said.

Her first serious duty was interviewing NBC's Washington bureau chief, Tim Russert, who had traveled north for the special day. They talked about President Bush's speech on the September 11 terrorist attacks and the political response.

After Vieira asked about whether the Democrats needed a specific plan for Iraq, the friendly Russert said: "That's the magical question. You have put your finger on it."

"Today" rebuilt its studio for the switch to high-def, making it as bright as a sunlit morning. The hosts sat behind a gleaming white desk, and Vieira interviewed Russert while both sat in spotless white easy chairs.

Vieira could be forgiven the need to take a few deep breaths before the camera's red light went on Wednesday, given the show's importance to the network.

"It's just a great ensemble of people," she said recently. "I'm like the aunt who is coming in to the family. I'm going to not at this point go under the radar scope but just fit in and feel my way. I'm not going to go in there with a hammer."

Vieira expects her alarm clock to ring about 3 a.m. each weekday morning, and she'll go to bed each evening between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. She said her teenage children won't mind having the run of the house late.

She will continue as host of the syndicated "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," and said she's gotten a head start by taping 60 of the new season's 175 new shows.

NBC is owned by the General Electric Co.


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