She may be known best for the nine years she spent as part of The View’s powerhouse team of women, but that should change now that Meredith Vieira has begun her tenure as coanchor of “America’s Favorite Morning Show,” Today. In fact, she has been a force in the journalism world for more than thirty years. Over the course of a decade working with CBS News, Vieira contributed award-winning reports to several different programs on the network, including CBS Morning News, CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, West 57th, and the legendary news institution 60 Minutes. In 2006, she became one of the highest-profile journalists in the business when she accepted her post at Today. “What’s surprised me the most about returning to news is how much I missed telling stories. There’s something incredibly special about often being the first person to let others know what’s happening in the world, as they get up to start their day,” she wrote in her iVillage.com blog. A mother of three, Vieira has publicly refused to sacrifice her personal commitments for professional ones. In her acceptance speech for the Matrix Award, Vieira shared advice for young women striving for success in the media: “Appreciate how lucky you are to be a woman, but know that sometimes it can and will be held against you. Above all, believe in yourself. The rest, as they say, will take care of itself.”
Born on December 30, 1953, to Portuguese-American parents Edwin and Mary Elsie, Vieira was raised in Providence, Rhode Island. She graduated from Tufts University in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in English, and landed an internship announcing the news at WORC-Radio in Worcester, Massachusetts. While there, her distinctive voice happened to catch the ear of a talent scout with WJAR, a Providence radio station. She was given a staff position and quickly moved up the ladder to WJAR-TV, where she was a reporter and anchor. It wasn’t long before she attracted notice from CBS and was recruited for the New York affiliate. At the station, she was assigned heavyweight stories like the Republican National Convention, and was honored with the Front Page award from the Newswomen’s Club of New York for a series of reports on child molestation.
As for her seemingly meteoric rise through the ranks, Vieira acknowledges the role that President Johnson’s Equal Opportunity Employment Executive Order played in her budding career. “You might say I was the victim of circumstances and a vagina,” she wrote on her blog. “Women were a quota back then. The business was told it needed us, and with that came resentment.” The older reporters may have been bitter, but executives were clearly impressed with her work. After just three years in New York, Vieira moved to CBS’s Chicago offices, eventually earning network correspondent status. In Chicago, she not only became head of the Midwest Bureau but also met her future husband, Richard Cohen, who was a CBS News producer at the time.
In 1985 CBS decided to add another news magazine to its schedule. West 57th was to follow a similar format to 60 Minutes, but targeted a younger demographic, and Vieira was brought on as the principal correspondent. The show ended after four seasons, but she earned her first four Emmy awards reporting undercover and around the world, interviewing subjects ranging from former cult members to Vietnam veterans living in Thailand.
Despite the demise of West 57th, 1989 proved to be a big year for Vieira. She was pregnant with her first child and considering the once-in-a-lifetime offer from venerable 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt to become an on-air reporter for the show. Impending motherhood made her hesitate, but so intent was Hewitt on having Vieira as part of the team that he struck a deal allowing her to work part-time for the first two years of her contract. In the end, the opportunity was impossible to turn down. “It was the only job I’d really aspired to,” she told the New York Times. She started at 60 Minutes shortly after her son’s birth, and contributed award-winning features like “Ward A,” the story of an AIDS ward in San Francisco, and “Thy Brother’s Keeper,” about Christians who saved Jews during the Holocaust, a report that earned Vieira her fifth Emmy.
However, when the two years were up, she was expecting again, and this time Hewitt was not willing to compromise. Vieira would not settle for less time with her children and declined to apologize for it. “I always felt my head was more with my family than it is with my job,” she told the Westchester WAG. “That’s really who I am.” The disagreement spelled the end of Vieira’s time with 60 Minutes, so she fulfilled the remaining two years of her contract by anchoring CBS Morning News and reporting for CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.
In 1993, Vieira joined ABC to act as chief correspondent for its news magazine, Turning Point. There, she won another Emmy for “Inside the Hate Conspiracy: America’s Terrorists,” a look at a particularly dangerous group of white supremacists. The Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television also honored her with an award for her examination of the “Framingham Eight,” eight Massachusetts women who requested new trials after being convicted of killing the partners they claimed abused them.
The next phase of Vieira’s career began in 1997, when Barbara Walters offered her a spot on a talk show she was putting together at ABC, one that featured a group of five diverse women discussing their lives and the news of the day. The View premiered in August and soon became a ratings hit. Every year since the show’s inception, Vieira, along with her cohosts, Walters, Joy Behar, Star Jones and Debbie Matenopoulos (later replaced by Lisa Ling, and then by Elisabeth Hasselbeck) was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host. In 2002, Vieira was named the host of the syndicated version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and in 2005, she became only the second woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host. According to her ABC biography, at this point, she has hosted more episodes of a game show than any other woman in history.
She made a triumphant return to the journalism world in 2006, when Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal Television Group, asked her to fill the soon-to-be vacated coanchor chair on the Today show. Vieira once again worried about the impact that it might have on her time at home, but Zucker insisted that her careful prioritizing was a big part of her appeal. “She has been able to balance her work and family in a way that our audience admires,” he told the New York Times.
Vieira has also hosted the Miss America Pageant, the Creative Arts Emmy Awards show, the Lifetime series Intimate Portrait and several ABC specials, including the network’s official Oscar preview show and The Beatles Revolution. She is one of the seven cofounders of Club Mom, an organization dedicated to celebrating the work of mothers everywhere, and, in 2001, was named “Woman of the Year” by City of Hope, a research and treatment center for those suffering from cancer and HIV/AIDS.