Despite friction, talk show is up 23% among women 18-49

ABC execs could only hope last week’s on-air high-five meant lasting solidarity between Rosie O’Donnell and Barbara Walters, who joined forces in their ongoing feud with Donald Trump. More friction between the two “View” hosts would only complicate the re-signing of O’Donnell, whose deal ends in June.

Or would it?

Since O’Donnell’s arrival last fall, ABC’s 10-year-old gabfest has exploded into the kind of hit daytime prexy Brian Frons calls a “once in a career moment.” It’s up 23% among women 18-49, an unheard-of spike in daytime TV.

But the upswing is the product of a love-her-or-hate-her fascination seldom seen in Alphabetland since the days of Howard Cosell.

“We are dealing with a very strong personality so for (producer) Bill Geddie and I it is a learning experience,” Walters says. “We’ve had to get used to her ways and she’s had to get used to our ways.”

ABC execs readily say re-upping O’Donnell is a top priority. They remember life a year ago, when ratings were on the wane and they faced the prospect of replacing both Meredith Vieira and Star Jones.

Unlike the other co-hosts, O’Donnell doesn’t wear an earpiece, making it harder for producers to communicate with her. Walters, at least publicly, says she expected that level of spontaneity. “You’re not sure what is going to happen next,” she says. “It’s still ‘The View’ but Rosie is a strong personality.”

And one who arguably holds more cards than ever.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more