SOCHI -- Meredith Vieira will make sports television history tonight.
The former Today show host and special correspondent for NBC, in Sochi as part of NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, will serve as the network’s primetime Olympics host on Friday night. That makes Vieira the first woman to host the Olympics in primetime as a solo entity.
In 1992, Paula Zahn and Tim McCarver co-hosted the CBS primetime coverage for the Winter Games in Albertville. (Worth noting: Kathleen Sullivan co-hosted ABC's daytime coverage of the 1984 Winter and Summer Games with Jim Lampley and Frank Gifford.)
Vieira replaces former Today show colleague Matt Lauer, who has filled in for regular host Bob Costas over the last three days. NBC said Costas, who has a viral infection in both eyes, has improved over the last couple of days but is not quite ready to do the show.
On a conference call Friday afternoon from Sochi, NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said he wanted to give Lauer some respite after three days of double duty with the primetime broadcast and Today. He said part of the reason Vieira was chosen was that her role does not disrupt other parts of the coverage, as shifting Rebecca Lowe, Dan Patrick or Al Michaels would do. Bell said he also has a long relationship with Vieira -- they worked together at the Today show -- and trusts her work on air.
On Tuesday Costas ended a streak of 157 consecutive primetime appearances on NBC's Olympic coverage between the Summer and Winter Games. NBC’s Tuesday primetime broadcast was the first time since CBS aired the Nagano Games in 1998 that someone other than Costas hosted an Olympic primetime show
Bell suggested that Vieira was likely to host the primetime coverage again Saturday night. As for when Costas will return, Bell said it was too premature to say Costas would not be back. As NBC has described it all week, Bell said Costas was a day-to-day decision. Vieira was deferential to Costas, following in the same manner as Lauer. "It's Mr. C's seat," she said. "But I'm hoping Bob is back tomorrow. There isn't enough vodka."
Costas’s absence has drawn plenty of coverage, including the Republic of Twitter both sympathizing and mocking his ailment.
“I’m not surprised it’s attracted this much attention,” NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus said. “Bob is America’s Olympic host, and people have been watching Bob do this and do it extraordinarily well for several decades. So in a way, they’ve come to expect him being here, and when he’s not it’s a story. It’s unfortunate, and no one is more frustrated or bothered by it than him. Not just the physical, but the fact that he’s not part of something he loves so much and that he does so well.”