Thursday, July 11, 2013

Does Meredith Vieira Finally "Have It All"?

Caryl congratulates Meredith on her new job at 60


You've come a long way, baby! MeredithVieira, longtime journalist and sometime game show host, is getting her own syndicated talk show in 2014. For Vieira, who turns 60 this December, the move marks another triumph in a stellar career that began in l975 as a news announcer on a Massachusetts radio station following her graduation from Tufts. In the last decade alone, she's been a co-host of "The View",  Katie Couric's replacement on "Today" (without letting the ratings slide, by the way) and moderator of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Getting her own syndicated show is a little like winning the jackpot on the Millionaire. Vieira will have editorial control as well as financial control (think Oprah!), not to mention her name all over the product. (It's "The Meredith Vieira Show". ) In other words, she's doing this show on her terms.


Having total control is pretty much the holy grail of the 21st century. Plus, doing it your own way is usually a precursor to "having it all." And, like most working women and mothers and battle-tested feminists, Vieira knows full well how hard a road it has been to get here.  In a statement announcing her new gig in the "New York Times" last week, Vieira said she wanted the show to embody what she called the “three H’s”: heat, heart and humor. “And speaking of the heart, I want to thank my husband, Richard, and kids, Ben, Gabe and Lily, for strongly encouraging me to take this incredible opportunity,” she said, and added, “or else they really just want to get me out of the house.” 

Think back to 1980s whenVieira, pregnant with her first child at 36, hit another jackpot by reaching the pinnacle of tv journalism. Perhaps you've forgotten Vieira was a correspondent for the most prestigious and influential show on the air then and even now: "Sixty Minutes". What happened next is an ugly but not atypical story from that era.


That’s Meredith (above, with Steve Kroft), she of the big-shouldered suit, shortly after joining the testerone-driven show in l989 where the other correspondents were decades older--Mike Wallace was 71 at the time--and all men, not to mention legendary "Sixty Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt who ran the place and hired Vierra. He also fired her. He said it was because she didn’t pull her weight and the work itself wasn’t good. (The work won awards.) Others (as in other women) said the real reasons were she wore jeans, had a playpen in the office and worked part-time. In that particular gender-fueled culture war, Vieira lost big and publicly. Her headline-making dismissal after little more than two years was acutely felt by working mothers in offices across America including me. At the time, I was a senior editor at "Life Magazine" with two small children. I didn’t dare wear jeans, work part-time or bring the kids to the office for fear of being fired. (When I took a year-long unpaid maternity leave sanctioned by Time Inc.'s Benefits Department, I was called a systems abuser.)

If you want to read a terrific book about Meredith (as well as two other successful women) during that tumultuous time, you should pick up “Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of 3 Accomplished Women.” It's better written and more real world instructional that Sheryl Sandberg's recent manifesto,"Lean In". Author Elsa Walsh (who just incidentally is married to Watergate reporter Bob Woodward) wrote the book almost 20 years ago  Her goal then was to take an intimate look at “women in their late 30s and early 40s (who) were at the crossroads of a still evolving generation.” Meredith’s story of her "Sixty Minutes"' debacle is told with searing honesty.  On rereading it yesterday,  I found the painful details still fresh and raw, the sexism startling and outrageous,  and the narrative inspiring even today.


In 2013, we need more women in corporate boardrooms

We can't always keep looking ahead at the work to be done. Occasionally, it pays to look back. Undoubtedly, there’s are still battles to be won in the 2013 work world—we need more women on boards, to name a current and critical issue—but there’s been progress over the decades. We have come a long way. Our babies are mostly grown. And, we don’t need outsized shoulder pads anymore to carry our myriad responsibilities. But we can still go, girls--forwarth through our 50s, 60s, even beyond. Like Meredith, we’re headed into a new season and, hopefully, this one will be one of our own making.

Meredith Vieira winning a "Gracie"  for outstanding news anchor

2 comments:

  1. While I have virtually no interest in another talk show, I am delighted that a 60 year old woman is not being sidelined. She is an outstanding broadcaster and should be at her absolute prime - so many men have been recognized and rewarded for their experience and perceived wisdom. It drives me crazy when a superior older woman is shelved for a younger less-experienced version, seated beside the older male who just keeps going. Good for Meredith.

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