Girl Crush: Meredith Vieira sounds off on feminism, her new show and more

Sep 1, 2014 at 8:00 a.m. ET

During four decades in the television industry, Meredith Vieira has taken on many roles. She’s been a journalist, a talk show host, a news anchor and even a game show host. And, on Sept. 8, Vieira will be sampling from all of these roles for her next big adventure: hosting her own afternoon syndicate, The Meredith Vieira Show.

And although she can't yet predict whether the show will be a hit with viewers, she is sure of one thing: It will be authentic. It will be a sincere representation of who she is as a person.

On her new set (with old touches)

"[The set] is designed to look very much like my family room," she told us, "because I'm inviting people into my house every day. You know? I'm inviting friends to come and have a chat, to have a laugh... maybe a bit of a cry."

Meredith Vieira won't be reading tell-all Today book >>

The show will so authentic, in fact, that Vieira pulled some of her own furniture to put on set. "This is really from our family room," she revealed, pointing to a chair on set. "We have another one that looks just like this, and I thought it was important for the audience to see that, you know, this is the way I live my life. A lot of people do!"

She won't put on airs or pretenses — she will embrace imperfections on the show, just as she does with that old chair from home. "This is my cats' doing, Felipe and Sweetpea," she noted, pointing out the frayed fabric on the chair's arm. "[Her dog] Jasper's also spread some mud on this chair, too."

Vieira hopes that the personal touches will help convey the coziness she enjoys in her own home and puts people at ease. Plus, she laughed, "They're going to love their furniture in comparison to mine. They're gonna go, 'God, ours is so much better!'"

On fighting for what she believes in

Upcycling old furniture from her home to use on the set of her talk show is certainly a novel idea in the industry, but Vieira has never been one to shy away from speaking up when she believes in something.

When she decided she wanted a live band — a first for a daytime talk show — she knew it would be met with more than a little reticence. Still, she pressed on.

"I went to the powers that be here and said, 'I think this would be a great idea,' and at first it was 'Eh, I don't know... a band? It's a daytime show!'" she shared. "And I said, 'It doesn't matter. It fits the vibe of the show.'"

Wit, wisdom and warmth: Meredith Vieira uncensored >>

After she found Everett Bradley of E Street Band fame, she tasked Bradley with finding four phenomenal female musicians — which he did. "And the powers that be came around again and said, 'Yeah, this is fun!' I convinced them," she said.

But a band wasn't the only innovative idea Vieira brought to the table. She was also insistent that her co-host be a relative unknown, a regular person — her dear friend Jon Harris.

The two met in the corporate world 20-something years ago, when he worked for Hillshire Farms ("He used to send me a lot of sausage," she joked). For Vieira, it was important to bring something genuine to the set.

"I just didn't want a fake friend," she insisted. "I wanted a real friend on set so when I walk out here, I can look at him, and we have history. It makes me feel good."

On sticking to her priorities

Such decisions exemplify the kind of pointed bravado that has guided Vieira's career like a compass.

In 1989, she brought her son Ben — a baby at the time — with her for a job interview with 60 Minutes with Don Hewitt, the show's executive producer. She didn't want to lose sight of the fact that she was asking that the position be part-time so she could spend more time with her growing family.

"Don can be very persuasive, and 60 Minutes was the only job in this business that I've ever really aimed for," she elaborated. "It was the pinnacle to me, and I didn't want to be suckered into something. I just said, 'Keep your focus. Keep your focus on this little hand here.'"

But Vieira also knows when to walk away, and she's realistic about the fact that women can have it all — it just likely won't be all at once.

Meredith Vieira: Happier without the Today show >>

"I came close to having it all or I was the poster child for having it all at 60 minutes, and I realized very quickly that that was a fraud — that I wasn't comfortable when I was at work, I was missing my child. When I was at home, I was feeling guilty that I wasn't working," she shared.

It was the first time she forced herself to truly examine her priorities and focus on them. "And my priority at that point — and still — is family," she said. "I wanted to be with that little boy and the one that was coming... and I never looked back, and I think for me that's been a good thing."

5 Things You Didn't Know About Meredith Vieira

1. What is your advice for making a good break?

"Well, you should never burn bridges. Just be nice to people, because you'll run into them again. But for me it's just been, I listen to my gut... I really do. And I get a physical reaction if things aren't the way they should be, and that tells me it's time to move on. And I've been lucky, too. Timing has a lot to do with it, and taking opportunities and not being afraid. Don't be afraid of change. It can often lead you to places you would never have gone otherwise. Oh, and drink."

2. Have you ever gotten nervous over an interview?

"I have a little bit of a crush on George Clooney, so when he was around, I got a little nervous. Sometimes with politicians I can get nervous because they're very programmed, and trying to break through and get a straight answer is hard. Most of the time, my job is to really draw people out, so it's all about listening. And if you really listen to somebody, the nerves kind of go away."

3. What's your go-to way to unwind?

"I hike. I love to hike. It doesn't have to be a strenuous hike — in fact, I was hiking a couple of weeks ago out a Rockefeller State Preserve, and I got lost for four hours... but not on purpose. It was really scary. So now I hike closer to home. But being out in nature for me is a great stress reliever."

4. What do you make of the fact that the term "feminist" has become controversial?

"Yeah, I don't know why it has become that. It doesn't mean that you don't like men. It isn't a nasty word. I think it's an empowering word. It means that women can do whatever they want to do or should strive to, and we should have the kind of society that allows that. There shouldn't be inequality anymore, and yet there is on so many levels. So to me that's feminism. It's not a negative; it's a positive."

5. Are you still committed to aging naturally?

"You know what it is for me? I know I'd be the one who gets the botched job — I just know it. So that, more than anything, keeps me from doing it. And it's hard when you're in television — there's a lot of pressure. You know, when they're tweaking the lights for 15 minutes, you know why they're doing it. But I don't know... that's a slippery slope. People start and do a little bit and it's fine, and then a little bit more, and then the next thing you know you look like a cat. You know, it's crazy-face."

Girl Crush tag banner