Incoming president Ben Sherwood steers franchise to division's non-fiction arm
For 18 seasons, “The View” has been one of the crown jewels of ABC Daytime programming block. But in a significant restructuring that could foreshadow the management style of incoming president Ben Sherwood, ABC’s daytime executives are losing oversight of the show, Variety has learned.
Starting today, “The View” will be part of the non-fiction branch of programming within ABC News, which produces the documentary series “NY Med.” The talk show will now be in the growing portfolio of ABC News president James Goldston, Sherwood’s right-hand man who helped revamp “Good Morning America.”
“Moving ‘The View’ to our non-fiction programming group now allows it to fully draw on the vast resources of ABC News and our team in New York, where the show is based right next door,” Goldston says in a memo Variety obtained from the network that will circulate to staffers on Thursday morning. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to work with this terrific team.”
One of his central goals, according to insiders, is to make “The View” more appealing to younger viewers. The show has fallen 10 percent in the last year among female viewers between the ages 18 to 49, but it’s up 1 percent in total viewers.
The long-running gabfest faced a drastic makeover in the fall with three new co-hosts — Rosie O’Donnell, Rosie Perez and Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace — joining moderator Whoopi Goldberg, though it hasn’t improved much in the ratings from last year’s lackluster season with Jenny McCarthy.
“The View’s” new panel has struggled to find its voice this season. The Hot Topics segments have focused more on hard news, like Ebola and ISIS, as opposed to celebrities and reality stars, the sweet spot for the knockoff CBS series “The Talk.”
The four co-hosts are all older than 40, which goes against the idea of Barbara Walters’ original pitch for “The View”: to make the debates multi-generational. Perez could be taking a hiatus from the show in the winter, since she’s signed to appear in a Broadway play, which may give executives an opening to test other co-hosts. Insiders say it’s too early to tell if a new cast member will join the show later this season, but the very possibility of a change is indicative of concerns with the panel’s chemistry.
The shift in the show’s management isn’t just an unexpected shakeup for “View” staffers. It speaks to the interim period between Anne Sweeney who will exit her perch atop of Disney/ABC Television Group early next year, and Sherwood, who steps in as the new president. Sources say that Sherwood had wanted more involvement with “The View’s” reboot and had long told colleagues that he thought ABC News and Daytime could be one entity.
Within ABC there’s been conflict about which side has been calling the shots on “The View” this season, with some sources insisting that the execs from the news side have driven decisions such as the hiring of former “Rachel Maddow Show” producer Bill Wolff as the new exec producer. However, those on the news side say they weren’t officially in charge of the show until now.
During the summer casting session, following Walters’ retirement, Sweeney—along with daytime executives Lisa Hackner and Abra Potkin—were overseeing “The View.” It was Sweeney’s idea to bring O’Donnell back after she left the talk show in 2007.
Sweeney is still involved with the show. Hackner, who clashed with O’Donnell and Goldberg, was phased out of her “View” duties in the middle of the summer, and Potkin will no longer work on “The View.” Marla Provencio, a chief marketing officer in Los Angeles, was also moved off the show.
The shakeup poses many questions about what sources describe as dysfunction inside ABC Daytime, which was folded into ABC’s entertainment division in 2011, and has a sparse plate that includes an upcoming Tyra Banks talk show, “The Chew” and “General Hospital.” One of the chief recent disappointments was “Katie,” the much-hyped Katie Couric 2012 talk show that hemorrhaged millions and was axed after two seasons.
A former senior-level ABC staffer who agreed to discuss the daytime department on the condition of anonymity recalls how Potkin, the executive who oversaw “Katie,” once lay flat on her back during a meeting with producers, telling them in panic: “If we can’t get the ratings up, we’re all going to be out of our jobs!” Potkin later jumped to overseeing “The View,” and has now been moved to a new duty–as a senior programming executive at the non-fiction division of ABC News. (Potkin didn’t respond to inquiries for comment.)
Over the summer, the casting for the new co-hosts, which was managed by the daytime team, was fraught with tension. Sources say they were too many cooks in the kitchen and the process was chaotic. After potential co-hosts were paraded into ABC for mock debates in August, executives couldn’t make up their minds about who they wanted to hire.
At one point late in the process, they even started to pursue Carrie Underwood, Variety has learned, even though the country star would be expensive, lives in Nashville and doesn’t publicly speak about her political beliefs. ABC finally offered a seat to Wallace on Sept. 3, just 12 days before the 18th season premiere. Perez was also a last-minute choice—the actress hadn’t been vetted with the other candidates.
Now “The View” finds itself alongside a growing stable of programs inside the non-fiction unit, which began several years ago, that includes “Surgeon Oz” (on OWN), “Mustang Millionaire” (National Geographic Channel) and “Ebola: Inside the Deadly Outbreak” (Discovery). Many of these programs are produced at ABC under Lincoln Square Productions, and sold to other networks.
On the surface, it might sound like asking ABC News executives to run “The View” will make the show even more serious, but the opposite could be true. Sherwood’s ABC News division is responsible for taking a more pop culture-centered “Good Morning America” to No. 1 against “Today.” Since it’s technically not an ABC News show, the staff will still be able to operate by more journalistically relaxed rules.
When Taylor Swift appeared as a guest in October 2012, “The View” agreed to guidelines that barred the co-hosts from asking about her recent breakup with Conor Kennedy. ABC News employees aren’t generally allowed to make such agreements, but “The View” will exist in its own ethical orbit.
For day-to-day decisions, Goldston is entrusting “The View” to Tom Cibrowski, senior VP of programs, news gathering and special events at ABC News; Barbara Fedida, senior VP for talent and business; and David Sloan, a senior executive producer at “20/20.” The execs, who will continue to perform their regular daily duties, will be working with the show’s executive producer Wolff.
If Sherwood’s team is able to successfully rescue “The View,” it will be another feather in his cap. One thing is for certain: he’s not waiting until his job begins to make his mark.