The great news-studio shuffle of 2006 continued today, as Meredith Vieira announced that she’s taking over the Today chair from Katie Couric, thus revealing the second least-secret secret in journalism. Vieira was always a no-brainer choice for the morning show, having done both hard news on 60 Minutes and morning patter on The View, and she told her show’s audience that she was "thrilled" to take on the new challenge. Though I suspect that having an excuse to get out of the crossfire between Star Jones and Joy Behar was reason enough.
Moving to the top-rated morning show, Vieira prepares to assume the most significant job in TV news, as opposed to Couric, who will have to settle for the most prestigious. (Audience size aside, morning news shows have not only made more money but done more to drive the news cycle for years now.) The move also leaves ABC the clear loser in a story that has mainly focused on NBC and CBS. After all, it now has to replace the single voice of reason on The View, while poor Elizabeth Vargas has to listen to a slew of reports that hail Couric as the first woman to solo-anchor an evening newscast, when Vargas–chopped liver, evidently–has been essentially doing that for weeks now. (Yes, she was named to the job as a team with Bob Woodruff, but tomato, tomahto.)
Indeed, what’s been interesting in this saga is that, for all the institutional biases against women anchors, it has focused almost entirely on women: not just Couric and Vieira, but Diane Sawyer (posited as a possible alternative at CBS or competitor at ABC) and Campbell Brown, Ann Curry and Natalie Morales at NBC, all potential free agents down the road now that they’ve been passed over at Today. There’s still prejudice, to be sure, among the media and beard-stroking media critics most of all–what is "gravitas," after all, but Latin for "If we blow up Iran, I don’t want to hear about it from a chick"? But among the audience–or at least the executives whose paychecks depend on anticipating the audience’s preferences–it seems to be a moot issue.
Also gone, you’ll be glad to hear, is the bias against game-show hosts, as Vieira re-enters the news biz coming off her other stint as host of the syndicated Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, following in the footsteps of Anderson "The Mole" Cooper. Howie Mandel, your day will come!