Second chance at show business

It didn’t take long for Jon Harris, announcer on “The Meredith Vieira Show,” to figure out what he wanted to do with his life: show business. Since middle school, Harris has performed  music, in plays and in front of cameras. Making a career out of the thing he loved most has always been his dream. And after forty years, Harris has finally achieved it.

Harris and Vieira have been friends for two decades. (Photo courtesy of Jon Harris)

Harris and Vieira have been friends for two decades. (Photo courtesy of Jon Harris)

“A class with Professor Todd Hunt started it all,” Harris recalled of a course at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was studying pre-med at the time, but realized in his second year that he didn’t have an interest for the subject. He switched majors and graduated with a BA in Communications.

Harris’ first legitimate job pulled from both his pre-med knowledge and his communication skills. “I was fortunate that an adjunct professor of mine, Gil Bashe, ran a Communications division for a boutique healthcare marketing company, Sutton Healthcare,” Harris said. “I started a week after graduation and did healthcare PR for the first five years of my career.”

But promoting a healthcare company wasn’t how Harris wanted to spend his life. Growing up in Wayne, N.J., he had envisioned a different future for himself.

“I grew up on the stage,” Harris said, reminiscing about roles in plays and musicals throughout his high school and college careers. At Rutgers, Harris was a regular speaker on the Livingston College radio station. After graduation, he turned to playing his guitar and singing in cafes and coffee houses. “I love performing, whether it was playing music or just speaking behind the camera,” he said. “I love entertaining people.” But Harris’ dream to go into the entertainment field took longer than anticipated.

Harris climbed the ladder to become chief communications officer at the Fortune 500 company Hillshire Brands Company. He never gave up on show business, though. He got a part-time gig as an announcer on E!, once introducing singer Pink to the stage. On the side, Harris delivered food donations with a song on the “Today Show,” appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and was featured on the reality show “Giuliana and Bill” as the couple’s real-life friend.

Ask Harris who his best friend is, though, and the answer is simple: “Meredith Vieira.”

The two met at a New York charity event 18 years ago when Vieira was still on “The View” and working as a celebrity waitress at the event.

Vieira waited on then-Global Public Affairs manager Harris’ table. “Every drink we had, she had. Every part of the meal we had, she had,” Harris told Splash in August 2014. “By the end, we were laughing all night and it was like we had known each other our whole lives.”

For almost 20 years, Harris, Vieira and their spouses — Richard and Allie — have been inseparable, spending countless nights polishing off bottles of red wine, belting out Beatles songs and going on vacation with their kids.

It wasn’t until the winter of 2012 that Vieira requested Harris to be her cohort on her self-named show. “The executives at NBC were worried,” Harris said with a grin. “They told her to find someone who had done television, who had experience. Meredith said, ‘But I don’t want a fake friend by my side.’”

It took a year and a half, but Harris is finally on the show as Vieira’s right-hand man. “I’m the announcer and the voice of the show. I interact with Meredith and the audience and support her in any way she wants to take each show,” he said. “It is beyond exciting to work with such an amazing professional and person.”

But beyond everything else, Harris is excited about getting a second chance at show business at age 45. “After my first couple jobs, I thought it wouldn’t pan out for me,” Harris said. “This really is a second chance for me, and getting to do it with my best friend means the world.”

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