Meredith Vieira's move to Today may cause ripples in the syndication world. If she decides that hosting both Today and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire is too much to handle before her Millionaire contract expires in two years, Buena Vista Television could be forced to shop for a new lead for the syndicated game show.
Vieira's departure from ABC talker The View also has big implications for daytime syndication.
Although Vieira says she loves doing Millionaire, waking up for the 7 a.m. Today is very different from preparing for the later-morning View. “I think it is a difficult task to try to do the Today show and Millionaire,” she admits.
Millionaire shoots its entire season in four shows per day, three or four days per week, September through December. But Vieira says production shifts could make the task easier, such as moving up the tapings' 2 p.m. start time. “We could push up the show to noon tapings, or we could move the shoot schedule to the summer, or they could say, 'Get lost,'” Vieira says, adding that, as of late last week, she had yet to broach the matter with Buena Vista.
Buena Vista did not comment, but Millionaire executive producer Michael Davies said they are happy to explore shifting schedules to make for a smooth transition. He adds that he had spoken with Vieira recently and she gave no indication she would ask to opt out of her deal. “As far as we are concerned,” he says, “she is staying with the show.”
NBC has made it clear that the network has no problem with Vieira's doing Millionaire. “It has never been an issue,” says NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker, citing Hugh Downs' hosting Today and game show Concentration concurrently in the 1960s as precedent.
One person who won't be taking the Millionaire reins, at least any time soon, is Regis Philbin, who hosted the ABC prime time version throughout its meteoric rise and fall. Philbin says he turned the syndicated show down once before and isn't interested in doing it now—although a return to a network version would be another story. “If it was prime time and once a week, and incidentally that's not such a bad idea for ABC right now,” he says, “that I would be interested in.”
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE VIEW?
Syndicators will also be monitoring how The View, which their top morning shows are up against, goes forward when Vieira leaves either at the end of May, as she has suggested, or after her contract is up at the end of July. The show could shake up the format, in which Vieira was the traffic cop of the group, or bring in a new moderator and keep things the same.
“It's up to Barbara [Walters] and the other ladies to determine if they want to change at all the general feel of the show, but I don't think that is going to be the case,” Vieira says. “People turn it on because they expect something.”
Regardless, agents are licking their chops at the thought of placing a female client in the slot. “Everyone and their mother wants this job,” says one talent agent, who asked not to be named.
While names such as former Everybody Loves Raymond star Patricia Heaton and CNN's Soledad O'Brien have been bandied about, many expect ABC to take its time in naming a replacement, including conducting on-air tryouts.
“If anyone says there is a frontrunner anytime soon—that can't exist,” says the agent. “It's too early.”