Whoopi finds a voice for ‘View’

Producers look to Goldberg for ratings

Whoopi Goldberg defended Michael Vick but showed she is adept at forestalling conflict over potentially controversial topics in her first stint as permanent moderator of “The View.”

The producers of the show are looking to Goldberg to bring stability to “The View” after a chaotic year with Rosie O’Donnell at the helm, which brought the show its highest ratings in a decade but generated backstage tension between O’Donnell and the show’s co-creator, Barbara Walters.

Goldberg showed that like O’Donnell, she will bring an alternative view to the cast, arguing early on that suspended NFL star Vick should be judged in the context of his upbringing in the rural South, where dogfighting is a part of the underground culture.

“Instead of saying he’s a beast or a monster, this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned,” Goldberg said.

Whereas last year the same sort of cultural relativism would no doubt have triggered a TV catfight between O’Donnell and resident conservative Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Goldberg placed a calming hand on Hasselbeck’s tensing shoulder as she made the point.

“I like the idea that we have someone on the panel whose first instinct is to understand rather than to judge,” said ABC Daytime prexy Brian Frons. “It leads you to a different kind of show and the right space for ‘The View.'”

In its 11th season, “The View” enters unknown territory with Goldberg at the helm. ABC execs discuss last year as an aberration in the history of the show in which they hitched their wagon to O’Donnell and her celebrated “feuds” with Donald Trump and the like — and reaped ratings increases of 20%.

“Rosie was a force in and of herself,” said producer Bill Geddie. “We didn’t even fill the fifth chair. We just said, ‘OK, we’re on some sort of a ride here, and we’ll ride it through.'”

This year marks the relaunch that the show never got to have after the departure of former moderator Meredith Vieira and longtime panel member Star Jones.

The producers have already decided internally on a fifth panelist who will be introduced in the coming weeks. ABC had reportedly been in talks with comic Sherri Shepherd to take the fifth spot. There had also been some speculation that the show would add a male panelist, such as Mario Cantone or Ross Mathews, as a casting stunt.

” ‘The View’ for 10 years has been all female; I see no reason to change that,” Walters said.

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