September 13, 2006 at 04:03 PM EDT

7:00 a.m. Meredith Vieira is wearing a black blazer over a white blouse — the opposite of what Katie Couric wore her first night anchoring the CBS Evening News last week. Is she telling us she’s the anti-Katie? She coos to Matt Lauer that she feels like she’s sitting next to the cutest boy in school. So she’s seen those ab-tastic beach photos too.

7:02 Matt says he hasn’t been this excited to come to work since the day he learned Bryant Gumbel was leaving. Well, of course, since he’s finally the top dog, with top billing. Meredith jokingly grumbles about getting second billing. Don’t get too comfortable there, Matt.

7:03 ”I’m going to be the broad in broadcasting,” Meredith says, keeping alive Today‘s tradition of groan-worthy, punning banter.

7:04 Matt and Meredith announce that they’ll be showing off the newly renovated studio, complete with its HDTV capabilities. Both worry that we’re all going to be able to see their crow’s feet. Hey, we’re all family, remember?

7:05 Ann Curry greets Meredith for the first time, convincingly fails to display bitterness or jealousy at having been passed over by the NBC newcomer.

7:07 Meredith greets Al Roker for the first time, notes that she once had a hamster named Al. ”I’ll go get my wheel,” jokes the jolly weatherman. So the pecking order has been established.

7:11 Meredith’s first in-studio sit-down interview: fellow NBC News-er Tim Russert. The topic is the political sniping in Washington over the War on Terror, but the upshot is a lot of logrolling about how brilliant NBC’s correspondents are. ”You’re a genius,” she tells Russert.

7:18 Meredith shows off the aforementioned ab-tastic beach shot in People magazine, plays footage of Matt and President Bush joking about it the other day during Lauer’s White House interview commemorating 9/11. ”Don’t make me go to Esquire from 1988,” replies Matt, brandishing an 18-year-old issue of the magazine. ”That’s how far back you have to go,” she counters, adding that at least she has clothes on in that photo. Still, she’s flustered enough to flub her first sign-off for a commercial.

7:21 ”I’m through the first half-hour!” marvels Meredith. Next half hour, says Al: the spanking machine. Actually, in the next half hour, Today will air one of its patented embarrassing this-is-your-life clip montages to introduce us all to Meredith. No doubt she’d rather face the spanking machine.

7:31 “As they say at the dentist’s office, this isn’t going to hurt a bit,” says Matt, unconvincingly. So begins the biographical Meredith montage. We learn all about Meredith’s childhood, her Paul McCartney pillow, her teenage dream of tap-dancing as a Rockette. (Yowza!) We see her early TV work in Providence, R.I., opposite snowmen and such, preparing her for her soft-news duties on Today. We meet her husband and kids, who say she’s a terrible cook. We see that 1988 Esquire photo, controversial then because she showed off her legs. (Katie was not yet a gleam in Today‘s eye.) There’s 60 Minutes honcho Don Hewitt, who still doesn’t seem to get how it was his sexist treatment of Meredith that led to her departure from that show. We see her dressed as a dog for Halloween on The View. Now a musical montage scored to Stevie Wonder’s ”Isn’t She Lovely?” Awww. Finally a Mary Tyler Moore parody, complete with beret toss. Matt shows off Meredith’s new dressing room nameplate, which has her teenage tap-dancing name: TuTu LaRue. There’s a joke that’s going to get beaten into the ground.

7:44 Matt does a long, creepy sit-down interview with a schoolteacher who had an affair with a 14-year-old student. Meredith is probably crossing her fingers and silently expressing relief that she didn’t land that assignment.

7:52 Brian Williams stops by, brings Meredith a huge bouquet of flowers, ridicules the spa-like ambiance of the new studio, asks for a massage. It’s a happy ending to Meredith’s first hour. Well, maybe ”happy ending” isn’t the right phrase…

8:00 In a pre-taped bit, Meredith’s kids wish her good luck, urge her to relax, and not to freak out. Cut to Meredith’s old school in Providence, where two of her childhood girlfriends are there to wish her well and attest to her tap-dancing prowess.

8:05 Meredith goes outside for her first meet-and-greet with the Rockefeller Plaza crowd. She seems thrilled.

8:14 More nostalgia: Al delivers a look back at 54 years of Today studios, along with a brief look at the speedy (three-month) renovation process behind the newly swank digs. Among the highlights: bigger, cozier dressing rooms for VIP guests. Williams was right; this is a spa.

8:31 Willard Scott and Gene Shalit introduce themselves to Meredith. Gene lets loose a typical groaner: ”Now, this is the view I’ve been looking for.” Then he and Willard link arms with Meredith and start singing ”Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” Oy. Click your heels together three times, Meredith, and maybe these scarecrows will go away.

8:51 During the ”Today Throws a Wedding” cake-decorating contest, Ann shields Meredith from Matt’s ”smell this cake” gambit, saving the newbie from getting a faceful of frosting. See, no hard feelings! Meredith manages to land a dollop of frosting on Matt’s nose. ”Revenge is a dish best served cold,” warns Matt. So far, these two are getting along about as well as Katie and Bryant.

9:00 Hilary Swank stops by for a perfunctory interview about The Black Dahlia. Matt does the obligatory marveling over how feminine she looks. Meredith sits this one out.

9:07 Ugh, they’re re-airing Matt’s interview with the schoolteacher who had an affair with her 14-year-old student. In case you missed it a couple hours ago. Where’s Meredith? Has she jumped ship already?

9:16 Natalie Morales does a segment in which she talks to six guys about what men really think regarding sex and romance. Then an in-studio interview with Men’s Health editor Dave Zinczenko. Meredith still MIA.

9:35 The blogfatherreminds me that Katie also used to make herself scarceduring the third hour of Today. Nice work if youcan get it, and props to Meredith if her agent got her a similarlyshort workday. But what’ll happen if NBC makes good on talk that Today will expand to four hours?

9:51 Still no sign of Meredith, but the show wraps with another musicalmontage of the highlights of Meredith’s tenure so far. Instantnostalgia!

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