Meredith Vieira took the microphone and addressed the audience before cameras were turned on at a recent taping of her daytime talk show. She had a mock confession to make.
"It's really scary starting a new show," she said. "I've been doing a lot of drinking."
Just like that, the audience was in her lap — and she didn't even have to buy a round. Her bawdy personality and easy familiarity with the rhythms of daytime television give "The Meredith Vieira Show" a genuine shot in the tough world of daytime television. The syndicated show premieres Monday.
Vieira, 60, who left the "Today" show in 2011 and wrapped up her time as host of the syndicated "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" last year, found that she wasn't ready to give up the spotlight.
"I realized there were things that I missed, like connecting to people, which is very much the 'Today' show and very much 'The View,'" she said in her backstage office after taping two episodes recently. "I just hadn't had enough."
She had several offers to start a show. She wasn't enthusiastic, since many ideas were variations of "The View," where she appeared from 1997 to 2006. The idea of doing something small originating from her house appealed to her. To her husband, not so much.
Instead, he donated a ratty recliner and couch from the couple's family room for the set at NBC's Rockefeller Plaza headquarters. Family pictures create a homey feel, as homey as a cavernous room with cameras and rows of seats for an audience can feel.
Jennifer Lopez is her first guest, with Seth Rogen, Jessica Alba and Howie Mandel also scheduled for opening week. During the recent taping, the content was breezy, with actress Cheryl Hines giving beauty tips and talking about her wedding to Robert Kennedy Jr. A germ expert admonished Vieira for hugging most people she meets, and Hines joined with the host and two audience members to play a guessing game with celebrity names.
One unfortunate choice was "Stall Talk," a silly interview filmed in a bathroom with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, proving some private inner sanctums should remain so.
The set and subject matter indicate that "The Meredith Vieira Show" is being designed to complement successful daytime programs hosted by Steve Harvey and Ellen DeGeneres, said Bill Carroll, an expert on the syndication market for Katz Media. The three shows will appear together on the afternoon schedules on NBC-owned local stations.
"All of these things say that it's not meant to be overly serious," Carroll said. "It's not that they won't deal with topics of consequence, but the tone will be lighter than a lot of other shows have been. I think that's a wise choice. I think that's where the audience is right now."
Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper and Jane Pauley are among the news-oriented personalities who didn't succeed in daytime talk in recent years. Vieira, a former "60 Minutes" correspondent, has a news background, too. Unlike the others, she's familiar with the daytime market and vice versa.
Not only is her name on the show, but Vieira is also heavily invested in the planning. Rich Sirop, her producer at "Millionaire," is one of three executive producers, despite nervousness by her distributors about his lack of talk-show experience. Vieira and her agent are the other two executive producers.
She hired Everett Bradley, a percussionist for Bruce Springsteen, to lead an all-female band. Her on-air sidekick is Jon Harris, a public relations executive whose chief qualification is being Vieira's buddy. "I didn't want a fake friend," she said. "I wanted a real friend."
Vieira's show is the most heavily anticipated in the syndication market this season, so if it fails, it's on her. Perhaps her age or track record provides her with perspective about its fortunes.
"If it works, great," she said. "If it doesn't, it's not the end of the world."
David Bauder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.