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At 'Today,' No news is good news

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published December 4, 2006


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NEW YORK - Katie Couric's ratings, attempts to inject an opinion segment into the CBS Evening News and search for a signoff have all been meticulously detailed in print. The state of Rosie O'Donnell's relationship with the other women of The View is monitored daily.

What was that other big television change this fall? Sometime in the morning?

Oh, yeah. Meredith Vieira.

NBC News, which prides itself on smooth talent transitions, seems to have achieved it on the Today show, where Vieira slipped into the anchor chair beside Matt Lauer in September without roiling the morning show audience.

"It's been too smooth," said Jim Bell, Today executive producer. "It's been too good. As great a story as it has been for us, it's just been seamless and that may be why it hasn't drawn as much attention. That's fine, I guess. We're more than thrilled, obviously, with the results."

The average Today audience of 5.8-million viewers during the first two months of Vieira's tenure was about the same as it was during Couric's tenure in 2005, according to Nielsen Media Research.

At the same time, chief rival Good Morning America on ABC has slipped. Since Vieira took over, there have been 22 days where Today had a lead of more than a million viewers, compared to six times during the same period a year before, Nielsen reports.

Those looking for cracks in the armor would note that Nielsen's averages are skewed by the large number of curious viewers who tuned in for Vieira's first few days. GMA pulled to within 330,000 during the mid November week when it was boosted by a colorful travelogue series and interviews with Dancing With the Stars contestants.

"I'm sure they look at it as, 'Boy, we weathered the storm,' " said Steve Friedman, executive producer of CBS's revamped The Early Show. "But other people from the outside expected more."

Either way, the Vieira transition is far better than one Today famously botched, replacing Jane Pauley with Deborah Norville. And it's virtually certain Today will reach a new milestone this week: 11 years of unbroken ratings domination.

Despite the occasional glitch like interrupting an Andrea Mitchell report on Iraq on a recent day, Vieira, 52, has shown that the news chops that got her to 60 Minutes haven't disappeared while dormant for a decade. Bell said he didn't hesitate to throw her into the mix, assigning her early interviews with former President Clinton and first lady Laura Bush. Vieira is under contract for one more year of the syndicated game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and said she'd like to continue beyond that.

[Last modified December 4, 2006, 06:39:50]


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