Show enjoys most-watched season yet

Last year’s presidential election was a boon for cable news networks, but it also proved to be quite a windfall for daytime’s hottest show — “The View.”

Although not a news program, ABC’s morning chatfest certainly made its share in the run-up to the election, popping up on programs like “Saturday Night Live” and “The O’Reilly Factor” and becoming a hot property on YouTube. It drew its largest ever aud the morning after Barack Obama was elected president — 6.2 million — and has carried that momentum well into the new year.

As it begins a week of tapings on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank today, “The View” is enjoying easily its most-watched season to date: Its average aud of 4.2 million viewers is well ahead of last year’s 3.5 million, and it has zoomed up the daytime rankings in key female demos.

ABC Daytime prexy Brian Frons believes the election brought “The View” to the front burner for a lot of viewers but that the 12-year-old show has found its groove in the past few years.

“We used to be an internally focused show, more introspective, but now we’re more outwardly looking,” Frons said. “Rosie (former moderator O’Donnell) looked out into the society, and we have built and grown from that.

“We have a group of diverse, intelligent women who filter the news and say, ‘Here’s how we feel about it and here are some things for you to think about.’ “

Whoopi Goldberg took over as moderator in September 2007, teaming with Elisabeth Hasselbeck, recent addition Sherri Shepherd, original co-host Joy Behar and, for three or so days a week, series co-exec producer Barbara Walters.

“There’s more an alchemy now, and the panel feels fresher,” Frons said. “They still surprise each other and the audience every day.”

Walters, who exec produces alongside Bill Geddie, said the show has become less reliant on guests because of its popular co-hosts, who engage in lively, sometimes heated, discussions about the day’s headlines. Indeed, the “hot topics” section that kicks off each episode now typically accounts for half of the show, if not more, on some days.

“Other programs have tried to copy us but it doesn’t work,” Walters said. “We all have a point of view, and it brings out a combination of political, intelligent and funny, which is unusual.

“This cast has ‘it,’ and that’s not always the case.”

The rise of “The View” comes as virtually every other daytime program is trending downward in the ratings.

John Rash, a media buyer for Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis, thinks that’s because “The View” has actually been part of an audience shift for women.

“It’s daytime’s truly topical show, and it’s running in an era when people are particularly attuned to the news,” he said. “Its topicality makes it entirely episodic, which is the complete inverse of the daytime dramas that have defined network television for years.”

And “The View” draws an audience that’s desirable to advertisers, including Big Lots, which is sponsoring the show’s first weeklong trip to California in four years. Among daytime talkers, only “The Oprah Winfrey Show” draws more viewers in households with income above $100,000.

In terms of overall audience, it still has a way to go to catch perennial daytime broadcast leader “The Young and the Restless” (5.1 million viewers), but “The View” is closing the gap in the key daytime demo of women 18-49. It topped all of daytime in the demo for the first time last October and trails only CBS’ “Restless” for the season, according to Nielsen.

And a couple of weeks ago, it outdrew all other broadcast daytime programming in the younger women 18-34 category for just the second time in its history.

This is a far cry from its early days, when “The View” was a ratings laggard relative to its competish, often ranking 10th or lower in demos among daytime programs.

To Walters, this success is especially gratifying. Early in its run, and especially when “The View” aired a special primetime episode in 2003, ABC had stressed the importance of aiming for a younger audience.

“The network wanted 18-49, they used to try to insist that we go very young in appearance, in guests. But young isn’t the only way to attract the young,” she said, adding that the pressure is no longer there. “What the audience cares about is, is it interesting and relevant to them?

“Are you smart? Are you with it? … We feel we are.”

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