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Meredith Viera: How leading with ‘Yes’ helped launch her award-winning career (“1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 5:30 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Fans of the syndicated game show 25 Words or Less will notice changes in the new episodes, which are now airing weekdays at 3:00 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. on Fox Wilmington. But one thing that has not changed in the third season is Meredith Viera’s commute to work. The 15-time Emmy Award-winner hosts from a studio in the basement of her home in New York, while the contestants and celebrities are in separate pods in a studio in Los Angeles. The new setup was created for season two after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down production in 2020. While Viera does miss the live, in-person interaction and gamesmanship from the show’s first season, she says the current arrangement has its’ advantages.

“In the format we came up with, everybody is full screen,” Viera said while sitting on the 25 Words set. “You actually see their (players’) expressions more so than you did in the old format. There’s plusses and cons to both. People who have never seen season one think this is always the way it’s been done, in almost a Hollywood Squares model.”

Perhaps the biggest change for the current format is the mix of celebrities and contestants. The first two seasons of 25 Words had two well-known personalities helping their teammate try to win $10,000. Now, the lineup is switched, with one celebrity helping a pair of contestants who already know each other.

“Either they are spouses, they’re siblings, they work at the same place, they’re old friends,” Viera said about the duos teaming up to try to win the big money. “There’s a shorthand when it comes to that, when people know each other. We’re finding the game play is actually better because of that, and it’s been fun to watch. The other change is, whichever team makes it to the money round, they’re playing for $10,000. If they get the ten thousand, they’ll come back the next day. If they don’t get the ten thousand, they’ll still come back the next day. It’s great. If you win the game, no matter what happens in the money round, you come back. A little bit like the Jeopardy model.”

25 Words is Viera’s second stint as a game show host. She helmed the syndicated version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire from 2002-2013, the longest run for a female game show host in history. The native of Providence, Rhode Island continued with that show as her time on ABC’s The View (1997-2006) came to an end, and she began co-anchoring The Today Show (2006-2011) on NBC. After Millionaire, Viera hosted her own daytime talk show for two seasons before ultimately landing 25 Words.

“I never thought I would do a game show,” Viera said. “I never thought I’d do talk show. I fell into things. From the beginning of my career, it’s been like that. I’m just curious enough that I want to try different things. Plus, I think it’s great to be able to wear a lot of hats in this business because longevity is not always that easy.”

Viera says her career in media started on a fluke. As a senior at Tufts University in Massachusetts, she signed up for a broadcast radio journalism course. For the final assignment, student groups had to produce a documentary. As luck would have it, the head of CBS Radio in Boston came in to critique the projects and he asked about the voice he heard on one of the programs. It turned out to be Viera’s.

“He took me out into the hallway and said, ‘What are you doing when you graduate?’ I said, ‘I don’t know!’ He said, ‘I do! You’re gonna have a big career!’ That was it! I said, ‘Really? Okay!’ He hired me as an intern at CBS Radio in Boston. I never intended to be in television, that was another fluke. A news director interviewed me for radio and he said, ‘We have a position on TV as well. Would you be interested?’ I was probably too stupid to think about it long enough to say ‘Well, I don’t know anything about that’. I always led with ‘Yes!’, and then one thing sort of led to another.”

Once she entered the world of local television news, Viera’s talent for storytelling became apparent. After working as an investigative reporter at WCBS-TV in New York City, she became a network reporter for CBS News, which ultimately took her to work as a correspondent for 60 Minutes, and co-anchor of the CBS Morning News. A jump to ABC followed, and in 1997 she was selected as one of the five original members of The View. Her later career with NBC brought opportunities to anchor the news magazine Dateline, co-host The Today Show and be part of the network’s Olympic coverage. Meredith Viera has had success in trying new things, accepting new challenges. In our interview Viera sounded like she may not be done taking those professional chances.

“People go, ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’,” she said. “I don’t hate that word, but I think of life as a continuing journey, and I’m not getting off of life. Maybe I’m going to go on another one of these little paths. The good thing about my career has been that I’ve always taken, to quote Robert Frost a little bit, the road less traveled. Instead of going straight, I’ve veered. I think that’s a good lesson that I learned and that I tell other people, especially young people getting into the business. It’s okay. You don’t have to just be on the wheel and follow the wheel, like a hamster. It’s alright to hop off and try something new. You never know what you’re going to find around that other corner.”

You can click here to visit the 25 Words or Less website, and see information on how to become a contestant or enter the sweepstakes to become a SuperFan.

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