Former “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” host Meredith Vieira is back in the daytime arena with “25 Words or Less,” premiering Sept. 16 (2 p.m. on WNYW/Ch. 5).
If the show sounds familiar, that’s because Vieira hosted a three-week “25 Words” run on nine Fox-owned stations in August 2018 with celebrity guests including Taye Diggs, Bradley Whitford and Loni Love. The show delivered solid ratings, ensuring its return in national syndication (201 markets on Fox stations and other network affiliates).
“I didn’t think I’d like the show as much as I did — and then if it didn’t get picked up I would have been upset,” Vieira, 65, says of hosting last summer’s run. “You known when something is good and I was having such a good time shooting those 15 shows. I’ve reached a point in my career where I just want to work with nice people who know what they’re doing. I just don’t want the drama.”
“25 Words” is based on the board game created by Bruce Sterten, who’s a producer along with Lisa Kudrow, Dan Bucatinsky (“Scandal”) and Mary McCormack (“The Kids Are Alright”). It features two teams of three people (two contestants and a celebrity) trying to guess five answers using as few words as possible (maximum: 25 words) in 45 seconds.
“I think people tend to love games and they’re very popular right now,” says Vieira. “This is fun and family-oriented and something you can play in your living room. What I love about it is that it’s not a reboot — nothing against that — but it’s a fresh board game that’s been re-interpreted for TV.”
Vieira hosted the daytime version of “Millionaire” from 2002-2013, but says there’s a big difference between that and “25 Words.”
“It’s two teams playing against each other, where in ‘Millionaire’ it was me with one person,” she says. “When we started ‘Millionaire’ the contestant had all the time in the world to come up with the answer, and that was painful. I was opposed to the [time] clock, but then I was very glad they instituted it. Once the train leaves the station in this game, it’s moving fast and that’s it — and I like that pace. I get to know the contestants and spend time talking to them — for me it’s important to make sure the comfort level is there for them.
“And the celebrities are so lovely and treat the contestants like they’re the celebrity because it’s really about them,” she says. “In some cases, the celebrities are more nervous because they don’t want to mess up. They invest in these people and they’re part of the team, and if they don’t play well, that person walks away the loser. So there’s definitely that element.”
Vieira says a return to another TV role would depend on the circumstances and timing.
“When I was filling in [for Hoda Kotb] on ‘Today’ I had a great time, but I was glad when that time was up,” she says. “I really don’t want to go back to that. I like the freedom to say, ‘I’m going to Cape Cod for a month.’ [Her husband] Richard [Cohen] and I kind of earned that.”
“25 Words or Less” Series premiere 2 p.m. Monday on Channel 5
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