Sunday, June 11, 2006

Meredith Vieira's classy last day

There was no better comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of Katie Couric and her replacement Meredith Vieira than when watching their farewell episodes. Vieira came out looking like the winner.

The Couric Today Show tribute was a too-long three hours, featuring segments ranging from Katie being in news hot spots to her goofy antics to her husband's death, which led to her on-air colonoscopy. It was all about Katie and that wasn't good.

The tribute showed that Couric is really not the right person to lead the CBS Evening News. First, she is not that good at doing news reporting. She is a great morning host who is best when perky, but looks constipated when doing serious news stories. Second, she tries to hard to prove that she's tough by asking insensitive and poorly timed questions of major guests. Some complain that she shows her liberal political nature (which is true) but even worse she shows that when she conducts an interview she isn't so much interested in the truth as she is in making her own subjective point by asking demeaning questions. Third, she is a lightweight. She's really a girl next door who wants hard to play ball with the big boys but doesn't have the talent or even the natural ability to do it.

The NBC tribute also revealed her lack of chemistry with co-anchors. People blamed Bryant Gumbel for the cold chemistry between the two '90s Today hosts, but in retrospect Katie looks uptight and sheepish. Her early years with Matt Lauer had some spark but in the last fews years (since his marriage and the death of her husband?)the two have seemed like cold office cubicle co-workers. His minor attempts on her last day to gently tough her arm seemed awkward and distant. The fact is this woman has a wall up and has difficulty relating to the men who sit next to her.

Despite what NBC has claimed all these years (and CBS will now say in promoting her) Couric is not a good journalist. She not only isn't the best choice for the CBS Evening News--she isn't even the best female to be on a network newscast. To be honest, in normal circumstances she wouldn't even be considered worth hiring as a part-time weekend anchor in a major TV market.

But she is one thing--a MEDIA STAR. Like Oprah, Couric has become bigger than her average talents. And because of that networks need to fight over her.

On the other hand, the final tribute to Meredith Vieira showed that this woman has many talents that are underutilized on television. Certainly she has the solid journalistic backgound (multiple Emmys for a variety of news magazines such as 60 Minutes) but after nine years on The View she has developed a relaxed live-television personality and a great sense of humor.

Her final day was filled with entertainment and comedy. It proved that Vieira not only is great at live television but is the one who knows how to create chemistry with whomever she works (and she had quite a range to work with at The View!). The tears flowed freely at the end of the hour because the clips showed she really was the core of The View's success--her firm command kept control when others wanted to spin out of control.

The irony is that Barbara Walters was the last to say goodbye to Vieira. Walters had been the first female Today co-host and now was unofficially turning over the job to Meredith. One couldn't help but feel that Walters would have never picked Couric and that she was happy to see one she groomed on the View be rewarded with Walters' old job.

Yes, Meredith will do great on Today. If Katie was the "girl next door," then Vieira will be the mother and sister to the cast and crew. She and Lauer already have noticable chemistry in the promos for the new team and everyone seems to have a relaxed anticipation that this will be a good change for the show. Despite the three hours devoted to telling Katie how much she will be missed, in the end there wasn't much emotion shown by those involved with the Today Show. The final tributes showed that NBC is getting the better deal here.

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