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Mixing fun and games and news

Many top news anchors, including Meredith Vieira, whose Today dawns tomorrow  on NBC, are no strangers to the lighter side of television. The Mole? Go figure.

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published September 12, 2006


Imagine you’ve been hosting some entertainment shows on TV. But now you’re taking over the job of the biggest name on the highest-rated morning news show in network television. 

Now you know how Matt Lauer felt back in 1997, when he took over for a famous face departing the  Today show: Bryant Gumbel.

And as Meredith  Vieira prepares to make that same transition Wednesday — taking over for Katie Couric after a summer’s worth of anticipation — Lauer feels her pain.

“I didn’t have the resume when I took this job that Meredith brings to the show as she takes the job,” said Lauer, whose pre-Today resume included hosting PM Magazine and reading entertainment news highlights for HBO.

“I remember the questions in the press — we were losing Bryant and what could I bring to the show?” he added, speaking at a news conference last week. “ Anybody who steps into one of these roles and doesn’t admit that he or she is a little bit intimidated by it and a little bit nervous about it probably isn’t telling you the complete truth.”

Though she has 20 years experience in the news business — including 60 Minutes, the CBS Evening News and the ABC newsmagazine Turning Point — Vieira most recently has co-hosted the chattiest of chat shows, The View, and hosted the daytime version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Can she get back into news?

“I haven’t done it in a while, that’s true,” Vieira said last week. “But I think it’s a little bit like riding a bike — once a journalist, always a journalist. And even on The View, we had our share of Jessica Simpsons, but we also had   Hillary Clinton.”

And besides, there’s a rich tradition of TV news people dipping in and out of the world of less, um, cerebral gigs.  Check out who else has a few showbiz skeletons in their closet.

Anderson Cooper

Day job: Anchor, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN

Showbiz past: Host of ABC’s reality TV competition The Mole and The Mole 2.

Peter Jennings

Day job: Anchor of ABC’s flagship newscast World News Tonight until shortly before his death on  Aug. 7, 2005.

Showbiz past: Host of an American Bandstand-style TV show in his native Canada, Club Thirteen. (At the age of 9 , he also anchored a Canadian Broadcasting  Corp. radio show, Peter’s People.)

Hannah Storm

Day job: Co-anchor on CBS’s morning program  The Early Show.

Showbiz past: Worked as a DJ for a radio station in Corpus Christi, Texas, in the mid 1980s.

Julie Chen

Day job: Storm’s co-host on CBS’s Early Show.

Showbiz gig: Host of CBS’s homebound reality show Big Brother, where her wooden performances have earned her the nickname the Chenbot.

Barbara Walters

Past news jobs: Co-anchor of the Today show, ABC Evening News and 20/20.

Showbiz gig: Creator and head diva on ABC’s daytime talk show, The View. (Much earlier in her career, she once went undercover as a Playboy bunny for a story.)

Mike Wallace

Day job: Recently retired as star correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes.

Showbiz past: Narrated radio shows such as The Green Hornet and hosted game shows such as  Who’s the Boss? in the 1950s.

Sources: Anchoring America by Jeff Alan; Sports Illustrated; the New York Times; Ohio University Today magazine; and press materials for CBS, NBC and ABC news.

Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or deggans@sptimes.com. See his blog at www.sptimes.com/blogs/media.