Looks back over 45-year broadcast career she 'stumbled into' and recalls 'moment of clarity' after fallout at '60 Minutes'

Broadcast journalist (and now game-show host) Meredith Vieira opened her induction speech at the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame on Tuesday night by saying, "Hi guys. I love the Mets." It got laughs as a fine riposte to honoree Greg Maffei, who went right before her. Maffei's Liberty Media owns the Atlanta Braves, and he mentioned that the Braves would finish above the hometown Mets next year. Then, after handing out some thanks, Vieira said, "I have been in this business for almost 45 years, which seems odd given the fact that I truly stumbled into it. 

"I was a senior at Tufts University without any real direction or the slightest idea what I was going to do after graduation," she continued. "For no particular reason, I signed up for a course in broadcast journalism. It was taught by reporter Les Woodruff from WEEI radio in Boston. Les brought in his boss, Bill Shermer, to critique our recorded work. When Bill heard my narrator’s voice, he called me into the hallway and asked me what I was planning to do post college. 'I don’t know,' I replied lamely. He then uttered 10 words that would change my life forever: 'I do. You have a big future in this business.' He offered me an internship at the news station and I accepted.

Meredith Vieira at the 2019 B&C Hall of Fame

Meredith Vieira

"Over the next few months, Les, Bill, along with Mike Ludlum and Mike Wheeler, instilled in me a love for a career I had never even contemplated. They were my first mentors and they were all men, a reflection of the times when so few women held senior positions. And Maybe that’s why I worked so hard. I wanted to justify their faith in me. And show any naysayers that women deserved a place at the table. [Applause.] 

"Well, it turns out journalism provided the perfect outlet to satisfy my insatiable curiosity.

"The stories changed every day and I loved telling them. I was hooked.

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"Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of some amazing news broadcasts: CBS Evening News -- congratulations to you, Z, you so deserve this -- West 57th, 60 Minutes, Turning Point, Today. I’ve travelled the world and met all sorts of fascinating people. But, most importantly, I’ve given a platform, a voice to those who might not have had one otherwise. In the end, that’s how I see our job: to listen to others and to connect. Whenever anyone comes up to me and says, 'Thanks for that story … you opened up my eyes or made me realize I’m not alone,' or, 'I needed a laugh or a lift today, and you brought it,' those are the moments I feel forever grateful I accepted that internship back in 1975.

"Nowadays, I mentor a lot of young women starting out in the business. I talk to them about hard work, perseverance and listening. But when they ask what’s the key to success, I say being true to yourself above all else. 

"I learned that the hard way, in the form of a very public and somewhat ugly fallout with Don Hewitt and 60 Minutes in 1990. I was forced to choose between the only job I ever coveted, and what I saw as my role as a new mom. And although it sounds strange, I really thank Don more than anyone for that moment of clarity. Because he was so strong in his convictions, I had to look inward and come to grips with my own. 

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So I went with my gut and left. And, although it was scary, that decision led to a whole new set of broadcasting adventures I could never have foreseen, including The View, Millionaire and my latest, hosting the game show 25 Words Or Less, thank you to Fox, Jack Abernethy and Stephen Brown.

"Thank you to my husband, Richard, and our kids, the ones I know of, Ben, Gabe and Lily, who remind me everyday what matters. Thanks to my long-suffering agent Michael Glantz who has supported my professional choices and overall angst making each one of them.

"And, lastly, a special thanks to a young couple I met just a few weeks ago at a mini mart in Los Angeles. I was just wrapping up taping the first season of 25 Words Or Less and was starting to feel pretty darn full of myself. Here I was at age 65, shooting on the same lot where Lucille Ball filmed her iconic show. Hollywood, Vieira has arrived! 

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So I’m buying a bottle of water when I notice this couple staring at me. Finally the woman approaches and says excuse me. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but my boyfriend says you are really famous. So I glanced over at him. He looks back at me, waiting for confirmation. Finally, I say, 'Hi, I’m Meredith Vieira.' To which he replies, 'No, that’s not it.'

"Enough said. Thank you very much."

Edited from pre-prepared and spoken text. Photos by Mark Reinertson for B+C.

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