Former ‘Today Show’ Host Meredith Vieira Says Her Dismissal from ’60 Minutes’ Wouldn’t Happen Today
Seasoned journalist Meredith Vieira has served on some of today’s top news programs. Working under the tutelage of journalism icon Barbara Walters during her tenure on ABC’s The View from 1997 to 2006, Vieira left the daytime talk show to man the news desk at NBC’s top-rated Today Show, taking over for Katie Couric alongside Matt Lauer from 2006 to 2011. She also contributed to news shows such as Dateline, NBC Nightly News, Turning Point, and Lifetime’s Intimate Portrait.
Vieira solidified her name in journalism when she became the youngest correspondent ever hired by CBS’ iconic news magazine program 60 minutes. She left after two years on the show, pregnant with her second child, due to a request she made being rejected.
’60 Minutes’ part-timer
Vieira started on 60 Minutes in 1989 as a part-time correspondent. According to Entertainment Weekly, Vieira put in 10 to 11 stories per year, where her full-time male colleagues were filing 22. She had made an agreement with then-executive producer Don Hewitt upon being hired that she would soon move to full-time.
When Vieira discovered she was pregnant with her second child, she asked Hewitt if she could stay on part-time. Hewitt turned her down, saying that the show needed full-time news people and allowing her to continue working part-time would mean her colleagues Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft, Morley Safer, and Mike Wallace would have to bear the burden of the extra work.
He said, she said
At the time, Hewitt defended his actions of releasing Vieira, standing on the clout of 60 Minutes. ”You don’t come looking for a job you can’t do, and convince [your employers] you can do it, and then one day say, ‘No, I gotta tell you, I can’t,”’ Hewitt said, as reported by Entertainment Weekly at the time. ”Meredith said to me, ‘People [with children] like Jane Pauley and Barbara Walters weren’t required to travel as much.’ I said, ‘But, Meredith, we’ve been on the air 20 years. You knew what we did here.’”
Vieira did not think her request was such a stretch, and saw it as a defining moment for the show to set an example. ”I understand his point of view, but I think it could have been a real trailblazing thing for 60 Minutes,” she said at the time. “As women come up in this business, people are not putting families on hold. I would have loved them to say, ‘We’re in a position to try something creative.’ I didn’t go into this job misleading anybody. I was extremely direct about wanting a family. I had every intention of fulfilling my end of the agreement, and when I realized I couldn’t, I was up front about it as soon as possible.”
Hewitt was obviously angered by the turn of events and in his frustration, made critical comments on Vieira’s reporting. “Do you remember any Meredith Vieira stories? Nobody does. Look, in a nutshell, if Meredith Vieira had created half as much attention working with us as she’s created complaining about us, I would have turned handsprings to keep her here,” Hewitt said at the time. “I would have said, ‘I don’t care whether she works a half or a quarter — she’s just so good, we’ve got to have her.’ It never happened.”
In response, Vieira called attention to the industry recognition she received when she started on the program. ”I’ve never had anybody in the past question the quality of my work,” she said. ”Of the first five stories I did for 60 Minutes, three won awards.”
The two ended up parting ways on good terms, with Hewitt saying he had “great respect” for Vieira.
Times have changed
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last month, Vieira reflected on her experience at 60 Minutes, and the circumstances surrounding her departure. “I just had a young woman say, ‘Thank you for the message you sent to working mothers.’ I would not have expected it — this was a young woman who knows the story,” she said. “And I don’t sit around talking about it, but, yeah, I hope that it somehow had gotten into the DNA.”
When asked if she feels the situation would be treated differently today, she commented that things in the industry have started to change for the better. “I don’t think you could get away with it today. And also that was Don Hewitt. I mean, he was the king. 60 Minutes was the crown jewel in the network. And so he could probably do no wrong. He was a very, very powerful man,” Vieira said. “And I made my peace with Don after … I’ve said this before — but, it was two parents fighting against each other — me with my kid then, and pregnant with Gabe, and Don with his baby, 60 Minutes. And that really was what it was, that we both felt so strongly about our ‘kid.’”
Vieira’s professional life has continued to soar, where she is now gearing up for her new game show 25 Words or Less, which premieres on September 16.