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Audience can share Meredith Vieira's view from the red carpet

Sunday, March 26, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Meredith Vieira is about to get a lot more exposure in Pittsburgh.

Tonight she hosts the Academy Awards pre-show on ABC, traditionally one of the most-watched telecasts of the year. Tomorrow, "The View" moves from the wasteland of an after-midnight time slot on WTAE to weekdays at 11 a.m.

This is the second year ABC broadcasts an Oscar pre-show (beginning at 8 p.m., the awards show itself starts at 8:30), and it's coming off a disastrous start. A year ago, Geena Davis hosted a bland, Sominex-laced show that relegated her to a room far from the red-carpet arrivals.

 
    TV PREVIEW

Oscar pre-show

When: 8 March 26 on ABC.

Host: Meredith Vieira

 
 

Vieira said that won't happen this year.

"They put her in this bizarre, little beam-me-up-Scotty room, and people would come to her," Vieira recalled in a phone interview earlier this week. "It didn't lend itself to spontaneous conversation and did her a disservice. So I'm staying on the red carpet. If anyone asks me to go in a room, you'll see me screaming, 'Don't take me there!' "

Vieira said her top priority tonight is to avoid getting in the way.

"I'm going to try to be as low-key as possible," Vieira said. "I hate to admit it, but nobody is tuning in to see me. It's the pre-show, and the less you say the better."

Vieira will share duties with actress/model Tyra Banks and Chris Connelly of MTV News. She promises camera positions that will give viewers every possible angle, including a camera stationed by the back door to catch "Jack Nicholson slithering in." Vieira anticipates no dust-ups with E! pre-show host Joan Rivers, saying she won't be near Rivers, so there will be no jockeying for position.

But she's happy her day job will finally jockey to a position where it airs in Pittsburgh during daylight hours. WTAE had been stuck with contracts to air ratings-challenged talk shows from King World Productions (first "Roseanne," most recently "The Martin Short Show"). Finally clear of those obligations, "The View" will air live weekdays in Pittsburgh as it does in most cities across the country.

Pittsburghers missed out on the show's tumultuous beginning, particularly blond Gen-Xer Debbie Matenopoulos. "Saturday Night Live" parodied the other female hosts of "The View," offering spoofs of Vieira, Matenopoulos, Barbara Walters, Star Jones and Joy Behar.

"I miss [the 'SNL' skits] tremendously," Vieira said. "I'm trying to see how much of an [expletive] I can be to get that back on. We all loved it. They really captured the idiosyncrasies of the particular people."

It wasn't Vieira's first encounter with imitation. When she worked on "60 Minutes," Mad magazine spoofed the news mag, calling her Meredith Vieairhead.

"I didn't care," she said. "I was so proud of that. I'm sure I still have it somewhere in old boxes in the attic covered with mouse [crud], much like my career at '60 Minutes.' "

Vieira got bumped from that news show in 1991, after she became pregnant with her second child and wanted to continue working part-time. After 20 years and six Emmys for her work as a hard news reporter, Vieira landed on "The View" in 1997 -- hand-picked by series executive producer Barbara Walters -- and she has no regrets.

"Once I realized I was a reporter who didn't want to report because it required a tremendous amount of travel, nobody was too interested in having me work for them," Vieira said. "I had to reinvent myself."

"The View" has become more refined in its short life. Matenopoulos was replaced with Lisa Ling, and NBC launched an inferior imitator this fall, "Later Today."

"There's no copyright on women getting together and chatting," Vieira said. "It's flattering, I suppose. What I think separates this show is the chemistry and the particular characters and what they bring to bear, figuratively and literally. You can have equally interesting chemistry but not the same chemistry."

The biggest change Vieira has seen in the show has nothing to do with the way the women relate to one another. It's something a little more basic.

"We all look a lot better," she said with a laugh. "I was screening old tapes, and the hair and makeup people have really gotten us down. How is it possible you can age and look better? Part of it is the comfort zone -- we're more willing to let our guard down and more likely to project who we are.

"I think the show feels more like an old shoe," she added. "It doesn't smell like one yet, thank God. That's when you know you're in trouble."



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