Meredith Vieira On the Move

Popular morning-show host Meredith Vieira opens up about her brother's Alzheimer's disease, her husband's health, the diet plan that really works (she lost 10 pounds), and why this could be her last year on Today.
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The Magic of Meredith

It was an over-the-top moment of live morning television. Standing outside at Rockefeller Center, Meredith Vieira introduced a Today show segment about counterfeit goods by asking Al Roker, "Can you spot fakes?" The weatherman gave her a quick up-and-down glance and smiled. "Why did you look at that?" Vieira sputtered with amused outrage. "You looked right down at my chest!" "I did not," he replied. "You did so!" she insisted. Then pointing to herself and laughing, she said, "They're real and they're spectacular."

Fast, funny, and unpredictable, this was classic Vieira, a newswoman who can do tough interviews one minute and clown around the next. In her four years as a cohost on the Today show, Vieira, now 56, has helped the NBC ratings-juggernaut stay way ahead of its competitors, thanks to her warm and occasionally wacky persona. With an estimated $10 million salary, she constantly pushes herself to keep the morning magic going, waking an extra hour early to prep for breaking news stories. "Last night when I went to bed, I didn't have information on two segments I was doing the next day," she says. "I woke up at 1 a.m. and checked my BlackBerry; I wanted to know who the guests were and to read the notes."

When sleep deprivation started to become a problem for this self-described night owl a year ago, Vieira tried an intensive diet-and-exercise program to boost her stamina. "This is a high-energy show, and I can pull it off, but I was really feeling it," she says. "I was gaining weight and feeling depressed." She met with a nutritionist, who put her on a 28-day detox diet of no sugar, wheat, gluten, alcohol, or caffeine. She also began a slow-burn exercise regimen with heavy weights to build muscle and burn calories. "I started feeling better," says Vieira, who lost 10 pounds and maintains her weight with a diet of mostly fish and salads. "I want to look healthy, be strong, and feel good about myself."

Refreshed and reinvigorated, Vieira has reportedly signed a one-year extension on her contract that takes her to September 2011, although this year could be her last. "Meredith really likes the Today show, she likes the people she works with, but it's a very intrusive way to live," says her husband of almost 25 years, Richard Cohen. "I think she may be nearing the point where she wants to reassess what she's doing and what she wants to do, and not get up at 2:30 in the morning."

Today, sitting in her midtown office wearing a bright-orange form-fitting Ralph Lauren dress, Vieira appears to be savoring the moment. She is toweling off after a rain-soaked Lady Gaga concert out on the plaza ("Oh my ga-ga!" she gushed throughout the morning). The room is cozy but cluttered, with bags of stuff piled up on the floor, books stacked every which way on a windowsill, and an impressive collection of stilettos vying for space. ("I'm really short, 5 foot 3 1/2, and from the time I could wear heels I did," she explains. "I wanted stature.") For a woman who confessed to Ladies' Home Journal three years ago that she suffered from terrible anxiety attacks before taking the Today gig, Vieira seems infinitely more comfortable these days. Gone are the moments when she was so terrified the world would discover she was a fraud that she "wanted to curl up into a ball," she says. "It was a pretty bad summer before I took this job. I felt like I was going to fail."

Vieira credits her husband and her children -- Ben, Gabe, and Lily (21, 19, and 17) -- with steadying her nerves. "The night before I started doing the show I was a wreck," she says. "Richard and the kids gave me a bracelet that read we are with you. It had an instant calming effect. I lost the bracelet at the Republican National Convention in 2008, and I was beside myself. So they had another one made for me. Richard said if this one goes, I'm on my own."

Continued on page 2:  Personal and Professional Pressures

 

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