She could charm a snake or coax an ostrich to remove its head from the sand. The eyes, intelligent and mischievous; the smile, warm and wry; the voice, low and vibrant; and above all, the attitude, friendly and unguarded. It invites you to like her, to relate to her as though she is the nice person who has moved into your neighborhood and is destined to be your best friend.
And, in a way, 36-year-old Meredith Vieira is new to the block. She recently moved up from CBS' low-rated and now-defunct magazine show, "West 57th," to her perch in a higher-priced neighborhood--the prime location of CBS' long-running hit, "60 Minutes." She moved in when Diane Sawyer moved out to take up her million-plus residence at ABC.
And if first impressions count, one suspects that Vieira will change the "60 Minutes" neighborhood considerably. Put it this way: If Diane Sawyer is the Grace Kelly of television--the perfectly groomed Ice Queen whose every gesture seems scripted--then Meredith Vieira is TV's Debra Winger--slightly rumpled, does not wear makeup and likes to dish with neighbors over the back fence.
And, say those who know her, the public Meredith Vieira and the private Meredith Vieira are one and the same. "What you see on the air is what you get," said colleague Steve Kroft, who has worked with Vieira for the last several years, first on "West 57th" and now on "60 Minutes." Over the dozen or so years she has been in the business, there have been several attempts to change her wholesome, good looks into a more sophisticated image.
It happened again, the attempt to make her look more glamorous, just a couple of weeks ago when she was doing her first "60 Minutes" introduction. But fortunately, producer Don Hewitt stepped in. "He was smart enough to see it didn't work, and he had them wash off the makeup." She pauses. "He would never say this, but the makeup made it almost look like I was trying to replace Diane. Trying to be glamorous. And it just doesn't work."
What does seem to work for Meredith Vieira is, well, just being Meredith Vieira.
Right now, the television star and relatively new mother (she is married to free-lance producer Richard Cohen; their son, Ben, is 11 months old) is sitting in her spacious CBS office. "It used to be Walter Cronkite's office," she tells you, a fact that fills her voice with a hint of pride and excitement.
Vieira is committed to doing at least 10 stories a season for "60 Minutes"; the other correspondents do 20. The question arises: Does this put Vieira on the so-called Mommy Track in her profession? "Maybe," she replies. "I don't care if I'm a high-powered career person. . . . I want to be a reporter. That's all I want to do. . . . I don't like the whole star system. I just like doing my job."