Meredith Vieira exits “Today” with a bang

There’s something special about live television when it’s done right, and one need look no further than Meredith Vieira’s send-off on NBC’s Today yesterday to witness just how magical it can be.

Vieira was stepping down after five years as co-host of the show to spend more time with her family, so yesterday’s broadcast was all about remembering the woman who replaced the thought-to-be-irreplaceable Katie Couric. Matt Lauer and Couric had developed such a great rapport, so Vieira was stepping into what many perceived as a no-win situation.

But the former host of The View quickly made viewers realize why she was tabbed for the Today job five years ago. Her quick wit, knack for hard news, self-effacing sense of humor and general likability not only made us forget about Couric but made us adore her. She was a wife, a mother, a person we could relate to every morning. She was our friend.

So with much regret, fans tuned in to her farewell show with the reality that all good things do inevitably come to an end. We were treated to video highlights, celebrity well-wishes and a live performance of “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King. But it what was the surprise that came in the last half-hour that people will be talking about for many years to come.

Matt Lauer kicked off the spectacle by walking Vieira to a piano and lip-syncing to the Journey anthem “Don’t Stop Believin'” inside the studio. He then turned her over to Ann Curry (her replacement), who walked her downstairs past actor Abe Vigoda (don’t ask) and to a waiting Natalie Morales (who is replacing Curry).

As the song continued to blare, the departing host was greeted and escorted inside and outside of the 30 Rock studio by NBC staffers like Al Roker, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and many more.

The fast-paced jog around the NBC compound ended up with an air-guitar solo by Jimmy Fallon and everybody gathered together on the plaza to sing the song together. When it was over, we as viewers were left in awe that NBC managed to pull this off, so you can imagine what was going through Vieira’s head. She literally looked physically and emotionally spent by the end of the two-hour telecast.

The reality is that there really is no easy way to say farewell to somebody we have become attached to like Meredith Vieira; but I tip my proverbial hat to the folks at Today for reminding us why there is nothing remotely close to the lure of live TV.