Naturally, the Today show has big plans to welcome Meredith Vieira into the family. For her first day, Sept. 13, I'm told, the producers are prepping a “Who is Meredith” feature that goes back to her early days toiling at TV station WJAR, in her hometown of Providence, R.I., and covers her recent gigs on The View and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?
To promote the on-screen chemistry with each of her new family members, Vieira will pair up with co-host Matt Lauer, meteorologist Al Roker and correspondent Ann Curry for a series of segments spotlighting each member's personal passion. (Playing golf with Lauer, for example, or barbecuing with Roker.) I hear that Vieira has suggested, in the same spirit, a segment in which each of her new cohorts plays Millionaire.
That's where the warm fuzzies end.
Don't expect the Today meets Millionaire idea to ever reach fruition. Word is, the suits at ABC parent Disney are refusing to share any footage of Vieira on Millionaire or View, even for Today's profile piece. So much for professional courtesy. Even the prospect of free promotion for Millionaire hasn't budged them.
While NBC and CBS managed to be civil in handling Katie Couric's departure from Today for the CBS Evening News, including letting Couric appear last May at CBS' Carnegie Hall upfront presentation for advertisers and media, that's the exception in the cutthroat world of morning TV.
The morning wars are rife with cold calculation and dirty tricks to sabotage the other guy's exclusive. (Remember when Good Morning America whisked away six jurors from the Michael Jackson child-molestation trial on a private jet and out of the clutches of Today show bookers?)
When you're up that early in the morning, no one's in the mood to play nice.
Unsurprisingly, spokespeople from both ABC and NBC declined to comment. But Vieira's agent Michael Glantz has a few choice words on the whole imbroglio.
“I can't believe people at ABC and Disney, that are so smart about so much, are actually saying no to these requests,” says Glantz. “Meredith left The View in good standing and has nothing but affection for the show, and she still loves doing Millionaire. Why would anybody in their right minds not let Today use the footage? It would just be free promotion for Millionaire and The View.”
Last week, I chided GMA and CBS' Early Show for not being aggressive enough at a time when morning news was in such upheaval. Some at ABC took me to task for being unduly harsh and failing to mention that the network had been reeling from the untimely death of World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings and the grave injuries suffered by World News co-anchor Bob Woodruff in Iraq last January.
They're right. Those tragic facts deserved to be mentioned. For all the ruthlessness of the business and the hundreds of millions in ad dollars up for grabs, it's the stories of human tragedy and triumph—and the people who tell those stories—that make up the heart of morning television.
In that spirit, Disney might want to reconsider its refusal to share any Vieira footage with a competitor.
After all, there's a fine line between being ruthless and just plain being petty.
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