UPDATE, 6:30 PM: “At an Olympics, there is no way to know what will happen at the moment everything matters most — no guarantee you’ll turn all that preparation into perfection,” Meredith Vieira said tonight at the International Broadcast Center in Sochi as she kicked off NBC’s primetime broadcast of Olympics competition held earlier in the day. The comment was particularly appropriate under the circumstances: Vieira, who’d been brought to Sochi to co-host the Opening Ceremony with Matt Lauer and had been doing segments for Today on U.S. athletes to watch at the Games since, was tapped to replace Bob Costas as the network’s primetime Games anchor, taking over for Lauer, who’d pulled double duty for three days. Costas still is battling an infection in both eyes that makes studio lighting his enemy.
Vieira is on duty for at least one night – possibly two, according to NBC’s Games EP Jim Bell, who called her the best choice for the gig among a considerable stable of talent at Sochi because her schedule was most flexible. For a TV veteran whose new syndicated daytime talk show is set to launch in the fall, the Sochi exposure is a gift. Before Costas, former Today anchor Bryant Gumbel served as primetime host of NBC’s Olympic coverage and was preceded by Curt Gowdy and Bill Henry, making Vieira the first woman to do the job. Hannah Storm, Mary Carillo, Gayle Gardner and Jane Pauley have previously hosted NBC’s daytime and late-night Olympic coverage.
“It’s so funny, I woke up this morning and I was feeling fine, and now my eyes are killing me,” Vieira joshed on Today this morning when her new assignment was announced. “I watched you guys [Lauer and Al Roker] attempt the luge. I think I’m going blind.”
PREVIOUS, 11:00 AM: NBC’s Olympics EP Jim Bell told reporters the current plan has Meredith Vieira fill in one or two nights for Bob Costas as host of the network’s primetime Games coverage, and the network is not ready to, as one reporter suggested, “shut down” Costas as its primetime anchor. “Getting into next week, it may become a topic of conversation, but we’re not there,” Bell said, adding, “We’ll wake up tomorrow, see how Bob is doing, and make a decision then.” Vieira is making history tonight when she becomes the first woman to ever anchor NBC’s primetime Olympics coverage. And yet, Bell got questioned on the call as to why he went with Vieira as his second Costas fill-in, taking over for Matt Lauer (who’s subbed three nights). Some reporters covering NBC’s coverage of the Games had questioned why NBC Sports wasn’t finding Costas’ fill-in off of its own bench, rather than casting from NBC News.
Bell noted Vieira came to Sochi to co-anchor the Opening Ceremony and has since been working on interviews and features and so could be tapped to understudy Costas with the least disruption to NBC’s coverage schedule. Lauer had to do double duty the past three days, co-anchoring Today show before performing Costas’ primetime and late night responsibilities.
Bell also got asked when NBC would air its Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding documentary. Bell said it would likely air on Sunday, February 23 — the night of the Closing Ceremony — unless any weather delays or other issues caused a competition gap that needed to be plugged. That night marks the 20th anniversary of the first day of the ladies figure skating competition at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, where Kerrigan won the silver medal, six weeks after getting clubbed in her right knee during a practice round on the eve of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships; the assault was reportedly pinned to Tonya Harding’s former husband and another man.
PREVIOUS, 5:56 AM: Olympics history will be made tonight — when Meredith Vieira becomes the first woman to ever anchor NBC’s prime time Olympic coverage. Vieira is taking over for Matt Lauer, who has filled in for the last three days as Bob Costas continues to deal with the effects of an infection that began in his left eye and spread to his right eye earlier this week. That was TV-historic too, ending Costas’ streak of 157 consecutive appearances as NBC’s Olympics anchor in primetime. It was the first time since 1988 Costas did not host the coverage. He’d soldiered on with the infection in one eye — then two — the first few days of NBC’s Olympics coverage before calling Lauer in from the “bullpen” on Tuesday.” Lauer told viewers that night Costas looked like the loser in a prize fight. Lauer pulled double duty three days, co-anchoring Today show for morning broadcast in the U.S. before stepping in for Costas in primetime and late night. NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell — formerly Today’s EP — said today Costas eyes have improved but are still very sensitive to light, so studio work is still out. Yesterday, Costas told Ryan Seacrest he hopes to be back at work by this weekend.
Some reporters covering NBC’s coverage of the Games had questioned the use of Lauer to fill in for Costas when the NBC Sports bench includes Al Michaels and Dan Patrick. Bell yesterday dodged a direct question as to whether either man would be Costas’ next replacement, telling a NYT reporter covering the Games, ”We’re blessed with a lot of talent at NBC” and “We’ll see how Matt is doing.”
But Olympics isn’t just about sports for NBC — it’s about promoting other important NBCU properties — like the launch of Jimmy Fallon as next host of Tonight Show. The show’s former host Jay Leno said NBC asked him to step down a few months ahead of his contract’s end, in order to premiere Fallon as new host in the thick of Sochi Olympics coverage. Lauer is the somewhat polarizing host of NBC’s morning show Today which is trying to stage a ratings comeback during the Games, and has had some success, though it hasn’t been the walk-over Today usually enjoys when it comes to an Olympics –this past Tuesday, for instance, ABC’s dominant Good Morning America edged out Today in overall audience. Giving Lauer the extra exposure in primetime, when NBC’s Games audience surges, was a no-brainer. Likewise, Vieira is headlining an NBCU syndicated daytime show debuting in the fall.
“It’s an honor to fill in for him,” Vieira phoned in to Team Today this morning during its What’s Trending segment. “You think about the Olympics, and you think the athletes and then Bob Costas.” She also joked she was talking to them from the bar.