Barbara Walters On Her Retirement and Big Changes at ‘The View’

After 50 years, 12 Emmys and many wet hankies, the woman who shattered the glass ceiling of TV news is going out her way

Barbara Walters is known for turning her interviews into sob sessions, but as she exits the business she’s known all her life, she’s determined not to do that. When the legendary broadcaster retires next month at age 84 from ABC’s “The View,” following a groundbreaking career that’s featured more than 50 years in front of the television cameras, she’s adamant she won’t shed any tears.

“I’m not going to cry,” Walters says, from her corner office at ABC News in midtown Manhattan. She recalls watching Jay Leno’s misty final appearance on “The Tonight Show” in February. “I think Jay felt that he was pushed out,” Walters says. “I don’t feel like I’m being pushed out. This was my decision.” Walters says she settled on a timeline for her departure three years ago, as rumors about her retirement began to swirl.

It’s been a long goodbye. With Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger in the “View” audience last spring, Walters first announced she would step down in 2014; this week she told viewers her final day on the show would be May 16. The send-off will include a two-hour primetime documentary about her career. Walters’ longevity is notable in that she was a driving force in the rise of the superstar TV news personality, and she has endured into an era when that kind of authoritative star power is waning. (Just ask Katie Couric or Brian Williams.)

As she prepares to leave, Walters admits she doesn’t feel sad. “I should really be depressed, but I’m not,” she says. “So maybe there’s something wrong with me. What’s wrong with this woman that she’s not depressed about leaving television?”

SEE ALSO: Barbara Walters: Probing Questions and the Tale of the Tree

Walters has been a broadcasting fixture for so long, it’s hard to remember all the glass ceilings she shattered. She was the first woman to co-host NBC’s “Today,” paving the way for others who used the post as a springboard. In 1976, she accepted a $1 million-a-year contract with ABC, a record at the time for a news personality. She became the first woman to co-anchor the evening news (although her shotgun marriage with Harry Reasoner was fraught with tension), and she later launched her namesake primetime specials with world leaders and celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn. While still hosting weekly newsmag “20/20,” she debuted “The View” in 1997, a daytime talk show that shook up the conventions of femme-focused yakkers with its blend of politics, entertainment and opinion.

This last act has given Walters a new generation of fans, stay-at-home parents and others who tune in to hear about the day’s headlines in the show’s dishy Hot Topics segment.

“I think there was a time when I was considered too serious and without a sense of humor, because I was always in charge, especially asking very strong men questions,” Walters says. “It was considered rude or pushy.” For 17 seasons, she’s been able to show her tart wit on the “View,” cracking jokes about sex and dating — even  planting a peck on the cheek of Vice President Joe Biden during a recent appearance. Was it the first time she’s done that? “I haven’t kept track of the number of times I’ve kissed the Vice President,” Walters quips.

Walters’ friends say they didn’t think she’d ever retire. “I still don’t believe she’s going to,” says Diane Sawyer, her longtime colleague at ABC. “I think we’re going to be able to knock on her door and say, ‘We need you,’ and it will be like on one of those great Western movies, where she and I get on our horses and ride back into action.” Sawyer, like Waters, acknowledges how much the news business has changed. “It’s impossible to look back and remember you used to do a show called ‘Primetime Live’ and think, ‘Dang, why did we only get a 29 share?’”

Anne Sweeney, the outgoing president of Disney/ABC Television Group, met Walters as a college page answering phones at ABC in 1978. The unwritten rule for the underlings back then was: “Never ever talk to Barbara Walters, because she was the absolute star of ABC,” Sweeney recalls. “She was the first because she was bold and fearless.”

Star Jones, who co-hosted “The View” from 1997 to 2006, says: “There is no woman that does what we do that won’t say Barbara Walters is her idol. She took the arrows that were shot her way, and women were able to advance in that field because of Barbara.” Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the “Fox and Friends” co-anchor who sat next to Walters for a decade on “The View,” credits her former boss with teaching her how to be a journalist. “I attended the Barbara Walters University,” Hasselbeck says. “I could not feel more prepared to interview anyone.”

But Walters’ persistence also makes her an unlikely candidate for retirement. “I thought Barbara was a forever person,” says friend Larry King, who left his long-running gig on CNN in 2010. “I thought she and television were like ham and eggs.”

When she announced her departure, Walters said she was hanging up her microphone for good. As her last day draws nearer, she’s become less sure. “I don’t want to say I will never come back,” she says. “If the president came on, depending on the circumstances, I might come back. If Fidel Castro said I will do an interview with you, which he has not in 25 years, I would go off and do it.” She says these rare assignments would be on a case-by-case basis. “I’m not going off into the sunset.”

Besides, she’ll remain executive producer of “The View,” the show she created with longtime producing partner Bill Geddie. She co-owns the series with ABC through her Barwall Prods. banner. Over the years, the gabfest has spawned its share of imitators, including “The Talk,” which launched in 2010 with Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert and a “View”-like panel of other co-hosts. Only recently has “The Talk” been nipping at the “The View’s” heels with its younger demographic.

Walters says she’s never seen a full episode of “The Talk,” though she’s friendly with Chen and her husband, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves. Her competitive streak shines through as she sizes up her rival. “We are not at all affected by ‘The Talk,’” Walters says. “I don’t think the success of her show diminishes us, nor do I think the success or failure of ‘The View’ affects them. The only thing I’ll say is if you’re married to the president of the network, you get more promos.”

It’s a good punch line, but Walters is half serious. “I envy that,” she says. “I don’t have the same appeal to Bob Iger.”

Barbara Walters didn’t set out to become a journalist, as she explained in her 2008 memoir “Audition.” Her father was nightclub owner Lou Walters, who uprooted the family from Miami for New York, after he opened the Latin Quarter in Manhattan. He earned — and squandered — a fortune, which forever made Walters cautious about upswings in her career.

She changed high schools three times. “I had to make friends, be alert, ask questions, and I was never in awe of celebrities, because they worked for my father,” Walters says. “I was curious. Even today, if I go out to dinner and I’m sitting next to someone and I ask questions, they’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re interviewing me.’ ”

Walters once taught a master class that at ABC News, where she told young journalists to always ask subjects about their childhood. She believes this question unlocks a key to their personalities. Walters says she was shaped most by her older sister Jackie, who was disabled. “It gave me a childhood that was sad and kind of lonely, because there were things I couldn’t do, like have friends over,” she says. “I think it gave me empathy.”

At Sarah Lawrence College, she considered a career as an actress, but she was too frightened of rejection. When she accepted a job as a writer on “Today,” the staff there was comprised of six men and a lone woman. “And you didn’t get to be the female writer unless the other one got married or died,” Walters recalls.

She eventually parlayed her writing gig into an on-air job, and set her sights on the anchor chair. “This is my big line: They hired me for 13 weeks and I stayed on for 13 years,” says Walters, who landed her first on-air assignment in 1961. “I am very hard to get rid of.”

Since she started behind the camera, she has a strong grasp of what makes a good story. “What I do better than anything, I’m an editor,” says Walters, who can look at an interview transcript and instantly assemble the parts. (She generously offered to edit this story for Variety.)

Although she became a major star at ABC, she long regretted her decision to move to the network. When she arrived in 1976 to do the evening news, she found herself in an acrimonious partnership with future “60 Minutes” correspondent Reasoner. Viewers could cut the tension with a knife, and didn’t tune in.

“I considered that my biggest failure,” Walters says. “I was drowning without a life preserver.” She saved her career with her primetime interview specials and big gets like Barbra Streisand, Jimmy Carter, the Shah of Iran, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, John Wayne and Christopher Reeve, the latter of which earned her a Peabody Award.

She explains she’s never intimidated by an interview because she is so thoroughly prepared. She writes her questions by hand on a stack of note cards after polling everybody in her life about what to ask. “Here is my idea of hell,” she says. “I sit down and do the interview. I ask the questions, and the lights go down. I walk outside and someone says, ‘Did you ask such and such?’ I go, ‘Coulda, shoulda, woulda!’ ”

Walters wakes up every morning at 6:30, and sometimes she’ll walk — or “slush,” as she puts it — through Central Park to the “The View” studio off the Hudson River. She reads three newspapers: the New York Times, New York Post and Wall Street Journal, all in print. She’s the rare TV anchor who books her interviews by sometimes phoning publicists herself. “She has a lot of energy for calling back again and again,” Sawyer says.

Even after she retires, Walters plans to keep her ABC News office, lined with 11 Emmy Awards (there’s another in her apartment) and framed pictures of her 45-year-old daughter Jackie and beloved dog, Cha-Cha. Walters has been married three times, and confesses she’s a romantic at heart — she loves to watch reruns of “Sex and the City” (which might be described as a scripted, racier version of “The View”).

She doesn’t regret placing her career ahead of her personal life. “I don’t think there’s a person I should have been with,” Walters says. “Isn’t that amazing? I don’t look back and think, ‘How did he get away?’ ”

She isn’t sure what she will do with all her new free time. She says she looks forward to sleeping late, taking in a Broadway matinee and traveling, and she might even go back to school. She recently enrolled in an art history class at NYU. “There were seven of us, and the professor never showed up,” Walters says. “That’ll teach me. I’m going to find another professor.”

For now, she needs to choose a last guest to interview. She hasn’t decided who that will be, but a good bet might be a certain former White House intern. Walters’ exclusive with Monica Lewinsky for a “20/20” special in 1999 reached 74 million viewers, a record for a TV news telecast on a single network. “It’s the biggest interview I’ve ever done,” Walters says. “I’d like to interview Monica again. I think Monica’s story is very interesting, because everybody else has been able to move on. I’m touched by the fact that she hasn’t been able to.”

Thanks to Walters, “The View” has been the rare place in daytime that celebrated politics. It’s been a stumping ground for presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama. But last year, the show lost its fire and ice: Both Hasselbeck, the conservative voice, and Joy Behar, the liberal, exited amid speculation “The View” was trying to become less political.

“These are not Barbara and Bill’s decisions,” Walters says. “The network is also involved. I think the feeling was if one went, both had to leave. We needed to shake things up.”

That will certainly happen in the show’s 18th season, which will likely add two new co-hosts. Plus there will be a void from the natural gravitas Walters lent to the program. “We’re experimenting a little bit,” she says. “Sometimes we think we should add a man.” And it looks like “The View” will hire another right-leaning personality to keep those Hot Topics segments heated. “We need a conservative voice,” Walters says. “We do try to present a different side.”

Even if Walters is the co-executive producer, she won’t be tuning in from home — but not because of any ill will. “I think it will make me feel bad,” Walters says. “I think I will miss it. If I don’t see it, I won’t miss it.”

For sure, the ultimate career woman has loved the time she’s spent in the (usually) relaxed environment of “The View.”

“The fact that it’s been on for 17 years amazes me,” she says. “The only way I can tell is when I think of some of the cast members, and the only original one is me.”

Soon that won’t be true anymore. “No,” Walters says, looking sad for a moment. She lifts her head and gives a knowing smile. “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.”

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  1. please the TMAU growing of peoples
    we need for the public to know aboit this awful disorder. my case started in 2009, I had a supervisor at the VAMC physically abused me , co workers poured stuff all over my desk and work area. i was placed in an area where they kept broken machime and trash, for three days . Blessed Mr Steve Havrey, i asked him to stops his jokes aboit bodyy odor and he did. if you can call him tell him i said thank you. it allow me to really enjoy his show at my shared office. congress needs to really know about this disorder. i work for the VAMC the govenment, and get treated so badly. i ve tried to kill myself in a fashion so my girls would benefit, but i was too scare of gods purishment. there are thousand of us, we cry to each other on supportive websites
    Barbara Walter please open the open so companies will see realized that this is a spreading disorder. the support groups are growning so fast.

  2. Jill says:

    Barbara Walters has been a huge influence in my life. I feel she taught me that you are never too old to start over and recreate your life. She has such grace combined with strength. I feel that she is such a great interviewer because people trust and respect her. She will always be a great female icon in my eyes! Thank you Barbara!

  3. Sandra H. Martin says:

    I’ve been watching Barbara since she was on the Today show in the 1960’s. She has been a part of my life, and I can’t imagine not seeing her on t.v. in the future. I admire her and all the barriers she has broken down for women. “The View” will probably not go on. With Joy and Elizabeth gone it is just not interesting any more. It is at a pretty low level now with only Barbara keeping it worth watching.

    • nd says:

      I agree myself, i feel that this is the end of the show nd in california ….(pity that she Barbara decided to retire somtimes these people who run the shows do not know what is best ) shame really this was a good fun loving show I miss Joy and Elizabeth and will now miss Barbara…..

  4. Cori Hingst says:

    It’s way past time she retired. They just need to end the show…..it’s old and tired.

  5. Charlotte says:

    Once Ms Walters is gone, Whoopie will need all the help she can get to keep the show afloat. Sherry gets more racist and obnoxious every day – everything she says is, “I,I,I, or Geoffrey, Geoffrey, Geoffrey”, and her hatred of Whites iis SO obvious it is sickening. She took Behar’s “Look at me, Look at me” seat at the table. She will not be of any value to Whoopie as she tries to rerturn some of the show’s lost class and dignity. I agree the “What’s Poppin” segments devalued the show greatly. As for Jenny, I’m just not sure.if she can be saved or not.

    • Donna says:

      hi hi thank you for your comment !! I totally agree wioth every word you said. she needs to go. I sometimes turn the View off because I can not take her comments.

  6. Mary Keaton says:

    My favorite guest co-host this year has been Josh Elliott.

  7. Susan says:

    The view has lost its luster with the addition of Jenny. The ” What’s popin” segment needs to go. Get back to your roots if this show is going to make it once barbara leaves!!
    Whoopie is terrific! Need more moderates and maybe even a man on your panel!!

  8. Patti says:

    Barbara was once an icon of class in journalism. How she hired Jenny McCarthy after Joy Behar left, is beyond my comprehension. The useless chatter of Sherri Shepard borders on being crude, lewd, and self serving. The only saving grace is Whoopi, and she usually looks like she wants to run off the stage in an effort to escape the constant babbling and talking over one another. Today, Barbara reprimanded McCarthy twice for interrupting her, and it was quite embarrassing. I miss Meredith Veira. Time to fold the show once Babs leaves.

  9. Les Goldberg says:

    Ms. Walters deserves the time off. At 84, it is only natural to want to add a leisurly balance to the lifelong working career, uber-successful or not. She is an American icon and a pioneer. My best to her as she begins a new phase of living.

  10. BARBARA KNIGHT says:

    I understand Barbara wanting to retire but not sure she knows how much she is loved and admired but the average woman on the street. I watched all 17 years of The View. When I worked I recorded it on tape and after I retired I still recorded it just in case I missed it one day. I did not like Barbara when she first started her career but listening to her made me love her. Barbara, I have been retired for 5 years and I just want to say one thing, keep active. I have not been able to do that and I miss it the most. My very best wishes to you for your retirement.

  11. sandra says:

    please get read of Sherry an Jenny before you leave.they bring nothing to the show. cut all that stupid stuff with jenny and sherry. love you Barbara&Whoppi.

  12. americanfirst says:

    Well.. for clarity, you lost your conservative voice and with it went your ratings – you lost in appearance and you lost in substance, you lost the optimism too! Pick a reason and any way you cut it, you have to live w/ the reality that a liberal outlets suffer by comparison to conservative outlets.
    CNN newest pet project include Newt Gingrich and S. E. Cupp (again substance and attractiveness).
    They see the reality and they adjusted to it.
    But don’t take my word for it – sit back and watch the correction, if any, is going to be.

    • dji says:

      crossfire on CNN is doing very bad. the ratings suck. as for you thinking liberalism on TV doesn’t work, take away all the old white men on fox and the ratings would be in the tank. this is not a conservative country by any stretch . but liberals don’t watch political talk shows like conservatives untill there is an election. they have other things to do. and conservatives are very boring people on the whole. and please besides dennins miller, who spends his time defending bush, who are the comedians? but conservatives have lost 5 out of 6 of the last general elections. so go pound sand . and change the name you use . stop making like you are a patriot.

  13. Toni says:

    I miss Elisabeth and Joy! I miss the politics, the debates. I loved the “fire and Ice” they provided! Now it’s just another show. And Jenny needs to sit in her own seat and stay out of every man that is a guest on the shows camera time!!!

  14. Donna says:

    Barbara Walters is absolutely an icon. I can’t remember NOT seeing her on TV and I am 59 years old. What a privilege it has been to watch her break the glass ceiling in every aspect. I am sorry that this was her last year on The View because it has been the weakest. It has become irrelevant without the political commentary, it has lost it’s flashpoint. It has become milk toast when it used to be scarlet. It used to be controversial, I couldn’t wait to tune in and hear the debates. Now it’s an entertainment show like all the others. For that reason, I would like to see it go back to the days when you were just waiting for the grenade to go off on a topic. It really made you think about how you felt about the issues of the day. Whoopi Goldberg has the fire, Jenny McCarthy I don’t know. Sherri Shepard does not have the intellect to participate in any topic that requires more than feelings.

  15. Kim says:

    Elisabeth Hasselbeck is quoted as saying that she learned journalism from Walters??? I don’t have a name for what Hasselbeck does at Fox, but it certainly isn’t journalism.

  16. Nina Sage says:

    Never thought she had any class, and will not miss her a wink.

  17. verbatim613 says:

    “‘The View’ needs to have a ‘conservative voice'” — She must be talking about former View host Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who WASN’T conservative. She was MODERATE, at best.

  18. Mew says:

    fern, you said it all, I stopped watching the view a couple of years ago, just couldn’t take watching these pathetic bunch of ill informed women! Jenny McCarthy!! now there’s a loser, her boyfriend is Donnie Walberg, isn’t that A GOOD COMBINATION?? I assure you this show will get much worse when Babs
    leaves. I think it’s time she departs, she adds nothing top the show nor do the others, if she was smart she would close it down with her departure.

  19. Kathy Cheer says:

    I too remember Ms Walters in the early days, the sophisticated, smart, attractive, witty woman who kept interviewing one, I thought, inaccessible personality after another…male personalities at that. Unheard of, and they didn’t talk about inane subjects, but issues that mattered with humor to lighten up the more serious exchanges. I never remember any of her subjects “losing it” over her questions or comments…that’s real talent. And then, maybe to attract more viewers from Oprah’s profile audience, she brought on “The View” which became a trashy exchange of silly gossip with Walters lisping sweetly in the background. Likewise Oprah’s guests in later years were quite frankly specimens of the lowest common denominator. Both women fought to survive in a male-dominant shark tank, crashed the glass ceilings to become leaders in the arts and news media…. for that they will always be icons. But Walters’ and Oprah’s sad demise, without bowing out before they sold out, is unforgivable.

  20. I have enjoyed the View for many years..however and for some obscure reasons….the show seems to have slumpped into trash and mindless nonesense…..thus taking it’s toll on the woman who worked so hard to make it viable with inteligent and good judgement…that no longer exists..what I see now is garbage and trash talk and very ugly nonsense…is this the legacy that an amazing woman like Barbara Walters wants to leave on that program…I have given up, as many of my friends watching regularly…..and when Barbara leves I feel it will be much worse,,,,too much sex-trash and vulgar talk and mindless nonsense..is this the world we are evoling into!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry……!!!!!!!!!!

  21. I have so enjoyed watching Barbara Walters for years and the View has been one of my favorite shows. Whoppi is my favorite after Barbara, of course, but Whoppie is truthful, no nonsense and I just love her as an actress and as a host and above all, a person. One change I would hope to see it to reign in Jenny McCarthy – tired of hearing about her playboy spread, her “boyfriend”, her father getting a date, etc. She is too outspoken and always ready to flash some part of her body. Please….let’s get someone who is beautiful but intelligent enough to share experiences without always bringing up her playboy experience along with speaking every chance she gets about her “boyfriend” – at her age shouldn’t she act more mature and just refer to him by his name.?

  22. Lucyjune says:

    The View is a nightmare…they are so racy for a daytime shows, where kids might be home with their Mom’s or Dad’s…they interrupt each other all the time…so UNPROFESSIONAL!

  23. ted says:

    You got it right Jules

  24. Julienne says:

    She gave-up “Real Reporting,” and became a puppet for the left….once she realized she wasn’t going to be invited to all the Dem-Lib Parties. She was good in the 60’s and 70’s.

    • Babsfan says:

      That’s why she mentored Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Julienne — because she’s “a puppet for the left”?

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