Julie Chen Moonves Says She Wasn't the First Choice to Be 'Big Brother' Host But Reveals Who Was (Exclusive)

The host also addresses her future on the CBS reality competition.

Ahead of Big Brother's return to CBS with season 25, Julie Chen Moonves is opening up to ET about who the network originally wanted as host and how much longer she sees herself working on the reality TV competition.  

When asked if there's anything the fans of the hit series -- which sees a group of strangers forced to co-exist in a shared house while they are isolated from the outside world -- don't know, Moonves says that CBS wanted another daytime TV fixture to host. "I wasn't the first choice to host. It was offered and turned down by Meredith Vieira," she says of the former moderator for The View.

Although she doesn't remember how she learned of this tidbit, Moonves says she eventually confirmed the rumor through her husband, former CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves. "I asked him. I said, 'You know, I heard stories back when I was cast on Big Brother to host that you guys asked Meredith Vieira first.' And he said it was true," she recalls. 

According to Moonves, her husband then went on to explain why they wanted Vieira to take the reins as the on-camera host and face of the series, which first premiered in 2000. "He said, 'I knew Big Brother was going to be kind of a trashy show… So, we wanted to class it up with the host,'" she says, adding that "they offered it to her because she was a very well-respected name in the business." 

However, Vieira turned down the job before later going on to host a daytime version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2002. Moonves, meanwhile, was the anchor of CBS Morning News. "So I was 'in house,'" she says of being available to take on the presenting position. "And when they offered me the job, they were one month away from launching the show." And luckily for everyone involved, she was able to transition from news to reality TV.  

"I know that I was meant to host Big Brother," Moonves says now, while admitting that it took some adjusting along the way. "I was terrible in the beginning. [But] I've grown so much as a human being and as a host… And I love it. I can't imagine not hosting Big Brother anymore."

Since first premiering in July 2000, Big Brother has gone on to produce 24 seasons, with the 25th set to premiere with a special 90-minute live, move-in event on Wednesday, Aug. 2. It has also spawned the spinoff, Celebrity Big Brother, which Moonves also hosts, as well as the companion series, Big Brother: After Dark

And during all that time, Moonves has been the face of the franchise. Because of that, "people sometimes think, 'Oh, you're big brother, right?' And I'm like, 'I'm actually not big brother,'" she says, joking that "I am the Chenbot and I am the host." 

That said, it remains to be seen how long Moonves will remain on the series, with her being one of the few longtime hosts still on TV alongside Jeff Probst on Survivor and Phil Keoghan on The Amazing Race. "I have no idea how many more years this is gonna go on. But right now, the way I'm feeling, I hope it never ends," she says. 

Moonves adds later, "Looking back now, 24 seasons under my belt, I know I was meant to host this show."

In addition to opening up here, Moonves will also sit down with Nischelle Turner in the upcoming special, Big Brother 25th Anniversary Celebration, which is an Entertainment Tonight special presented by CBS premiering on Wednesday, July 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. It will also stream live and be available on demand on Paramount+ or Paramount+ with Showtime.

Hosted by Turner, the special, which will look back on all the biggest and best moments, features archival footage from the past 24 seasons and exclusive new interviews with fan-favorite houseguests including winners Cody Calafiore, Taylor Hale, Derrick Levasseur, Jordan Lloyd, Xavier Prather and Rachel Reilly, and other houseguests, including Azah Awasum, Hannah Chaddha, Derek Frazier, Frankie Grande, Tiffany Mitchell, Janelle Pierzina, Danielle Reyes, Kaysar Ridha, Jeff Schroeder and Brendon Villegas.