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TV Critics Tour: Meredith Vieira's un-talk show

Meredith Vieira speaks during a "The Meredith Vieira

Meredith Vieira speaks during a "The Meredith Vieira Show" panel discussion at the NBCUniversal portion of the 2014 Summer Television Critics Association press tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 14, 2014, in Beverly Hills, California. Credit: Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown

BEVERLY HILLS, California -- We all remember the "uncola." Now enter, stage left or right -- your choice -- the un-talk show. A show with talk but without talk. A show that wants to be called something -- but just don't call it a talk show. Call it instead "The Meredith Vieira Show." That's good. That should do... 

 Vieira met up with the press here today aware that she would get two questions -- a return to "The View," as in, "Hey, Rosie will do it, why not you?!" -- and a second, more complicated one:  Can another talk show survive in that really, really overcrowded place called "daytime TV" that is already littered with babble? 

 She handled the first one effortlessly: "No. I knew after nine years that it was my time to leave “The View.” I have a pretty good sense of timing, and I always like to get out before something bad happens. And having gone back several times and being greeted very lovingly each time, be it “The View” or “Today,” you realize you really can’t go home again. I’m sort of the aunt, the crazy aunt who took off, and now she’s back. So no, I’d love to go as a guest, and I love those ladies, certainly Whoopi and Rosie and whoever else they get. And I wish them the best. Chemistry is a tough nut."

 Chemistry is and so is talk. So what of the second question.? Vieira promises a series that will essentially revolve around a cult of personality: her own. It will be homespun, free-form, and above all "authentic" -- her word, and her word used several times in fact. "Authenticity" is, after all, her stock in trade: a smile, laugh, style and approach that doesn't feel arch or prefabricated, but which seems to flow from somewhere deep inside, straight to and through the camera lens.

It was, in fact, Vieira's great strength, particularly at "Today," where she softened whatever edge she came in contact with -- Matt Lauer's above all -- or at "The View," which was all edge, often of the sharp, jagged kind. 

 And so ... authentic. Yes, she will talk to people; she spoke of "reconnecting" with viewers, and yes, there will be guests, even of the celebrity-I'm-selling-a-book/movie/NBC TV series kind.

But, she says, they won't fit into a preset mold, but instead have to essentially work for their supper, or this being daytime, brunch, by playing contests that would essentially be part of some money-raising scheme for the purposes of charity.

After leaving "Today" (in 2011), "what I missed the most was connecting with the audience. I miss the people who come up to me and say, “Gee, you made a difference in my life” or “I was going through a hard time, and you made me feel better” or whatever it was, those things. That’s the power of television, particularly daytime. You talk about what a wasteland it is, but it can do so much to help people. And I thought if I could come up with a show that did that and do it out of my house, which is what I wanted, my husband said 'no', so we couldn’t do that. But I wanted that vibe. So that’s why the set looks exactly like my family room, down to the artwork, which is really my children’s paintings. That’s the kind of art we have." (The show, in fact, will originate from Studio 6A at 30 Rock.)

Nevertheless, Vieira, who clearly is aware that hers will be branded another "talk show," which is is why she studiously avoided the "t" word yesterday -- went on to describe a new program that will, and probably must, be one anyway.

"So the top of the show will be something we’re calling, “The List,” where I may talk about something that’s on my mind, something that’s happening in the news, something that’s happening in my family. Everett [Bradley, of the E Street Band, who will run the house band] might bring something to the discussion. Jon Harris, who is our announcer, who is a dear friend of mine ...when somebody asked me who I wanted for my announcer, I said, 'I want a real friend, not a fake friend.' And Jon was hired, and he’s fantastic.

"So Jon may bring something to the discussion. And 'The List' could be a video that we saw that we thought was great. It could be serious. It could be funny. It could be a combination probably. And that’s the way we always will start the show. And then from there we have six other segments. Sometimes segment 2 may be a celebrity, but we’re not celebrity-driven. And when we use celebrities, we want to use them in ways that are different than what you normally see. There are so many celebrities who have great causes that they’d love to talk about, and we’d love to get them on to do that and then play a game with them and raise money for something that they care about."

Does that sad, bad word -- speaking of words -- "failure" ever enter her mind as she plunges into this new act?

"I know what it is to be in syndication and to launch a show in syndication," she said. "And if it fails, I’m not going to die, but I’m hoping for the best. I think we have a fresh and exciting new show that’s different from what has already been out there, and, hopefully, the audience will respond."


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