When Nicolle Wallace was hired as a co-host of “The View” last September, ABC executives told her they wanted an intelligent, measured Republican at the Hot Topics table opposite Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell and Rosie Perez. But season 18 turned out to be a tumultuous year for the show, with ratings down 16% compared to the second quarter in 2014. There was no shortage of drama behind the scenes. ABC News and daytime bosses fought a tug-of-war for oversight of “The View,” until Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood handed the reins to the news division in October, and O’Donnell exited in January, citing health concerns as a result of a chaotic work environment.
Although Wallace, the former communications chief for President George W. Bush, received props from viewers and the staff for her laidback style, executives under ABC News president James Goldston decided in the spring that they were dissatisfied that she didn’t bicker with her co-hosts during Hot Topics. But they never gave Wallace a single note — good or bad — all season about her performance. In July, Wallace was caught off-guard when she learned from a Variety story that she was being fired as co-host of “The View.”
Wallace met up with Variety after she signed off from “The View,” and turned down a role to appear on the show once a week. She’d just come from MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” where she recently re-signed a two-year contract as a contributor. Wallace talked about her season on “The View” and how she felt about leaving.
The casting for season 18 was last minute. Had you met with the other panelists before you started?
We did one rehearsal show. Presidents practice more than that to throw out a pitch at a minor-league all-star game. The first day, my hair was brown because someone told me it should be brown. By Wednesday, it was back to blonde again, and I was feeling better. I said: “I’ll do anything you want. I’ll wear anything you want. But I’m dying my hair back to blonde.”
You really seemed to get along with Whoopi and Rosie Perez.
Whoopi and I never separated. We’d show up, go to the meeting, stay in hair and makeup. Rosie Perez and I became equally close. The special-ness of knowing those two women and becoming their friends, there was never a day where it wore off. Their friendship got me through the final five weeks, which were not how I expected it to end.
I loved the job. I had no plans of quitting. I think I thought that I would learn somewhere other than Variety that I’d been fired. It shattered my naivete about television. Listen, it’s all fair. I wasn’t wronged by anybody. But I was surprised to learn in the press about their decision not to bring me back.
Had they given any indication they were unhappy with your performance?
I had never had one note from anybody inside the entire organization during the entire season. No one said a word to me. Maybe I should have seen it coming. Not after a single show, a single Hot Topic or a single interview. It was like being invisible. But not in an unpleasant way.
That’s not normal for television.
See, I didn’t know what was normal. Even at MSNBC as a contributor, there’s a lot of conversation and collaboration, but I’d never worked in daytime.
What did ABC tell you when they finally called you?
They never called me. The night your second story ran, they summoned my agent and told me they’d like to consider me for a contributor role, and they also made me an offer at ABC News to do the conventions and debates.
Did you think about it?
I did. They asked me to be on “The View” for one day a week. I felt like if it had been two days a week or enough time to have more of a presence, I’d consider it. They weren’t interested in negotiating with me. It didn’t make sense for me.
Many viewers are upset that you’re leaving.
It’s too much to even comprehend how nice they’ve been. Everywhere I go, people stop me and they’re like, “Where can we send a letter?” I’m like, “Don’t send a letter — you’re going to get me in trouble.” Then I think, “Why am I protecting these people? They fired me.”
Why did you ever want to do “The View”?
Oh my God. Everybody wants to do “The View.” It’s this iconic show. When I worked at the White House, I used to watch the beginning, to see what they were talking about. If a political topic was on their radar, I used it as ammunition with the president or the White House staff. “This is such a big deal,” I’d say. “They are talking about it on the damn ‘View.'” I always felt it was an important show and an important barometer. The day I got the job, it was expressed to me by Ben Sherwood that he wanted to make it a place where all the candidates for president had to stop. I took that assignment to heart and tried to have the kind of political discussions that, while sharp and critical at times, were also fair.
Was Ben involved in the show?
That was the only time I talked to him.
How did you find out Rosie O’Donnell was leaving?
In the press.
Was it a difficult season?
For me, I was sort of like Forrest Gump. I was standing there and all this crazy stuff was happening, but I didn’t know anything different. I loved it all. Was it difficult? It was my first foray into that world. I was on the Sarah Palin campaign, so I’d certainly seen extraordinary and dramatic things take place before. There were some extraordinary and dramatic moments during the Rosie O’Donnell part of the season. I don’t think she felt it was what she signed up for, so there was some exasperation.
Did you get along?
To my knowledge. She was really intense, and that intensity could be really uncomfortable. What transpired between us transpired on air. We had a combustible debate about torture. She had really combustible conversations about race. And listen, maybe this is where I failed in the eyes of the executives who hired me. Maybe this combustion is what they were seeking.
After Elisabeth Hasselbeck, there was this template that the Republican had to be fighting with all her other co-hosts.
I like and respect Elisabeth Hasselbeck so much. I’m from a political party that represents half the country. I never really thought that anyone thought there was just one kind of Republican woman. I never went to work and thought, “How can I be more like Elisabeth?” It never crossed my mind that was the measure I was being held to.
Did you wish you fought more?
I did me. If I had been trying to be something else, I never could have pulled it off.
The conservative next season will be Candace Cameron Bure. Is she political?
I asked her once about politics and she said she’s just becoming more interested in politics.
How is that going to work?
I think she’ll be great. The one thing I think that is the most important to your success is the support of executives you work for, and she has that.
Were you surprised that Rosie Perez was leaving too?
She wanted to leave and they respected that. But I’m surprised they didn’t try to find some way to keep her on the show.
They searched for a Latina co-host for so long.
They are not going to find anyone better than her. When actors came in, they all wanted to meet Rosie Perez and Whoopi.
What were some of your favorite guests?
Jeff Garlin taking his pants off was the single funniest thing that happened on the show. I loved meeting Stevie Wonder. I loved meeting Alicia Keys. The real-people stories we did stayed with me longer. We did a fashion show with kids with disabilities. We did a show with kids fighting cancer. Those were the shows that made me feel like I was doing something useful with my morning. I was happy to be there every single day. When they did finally come and talk to me, I said, “I wish the show the best. But you did lose your happiest employee.” I was happy to be on every show. I sat down at 11 o’clock next to Whoopi Goldberg, feeling like I’d won the lottery every time.
Did you meet Barbara Walters?
When I did the test shows. I called her before my last show and she was generous and kind, and asked me if I heard I was getting fired in Variety.
Will you still watch “The View”?
I have a 3-year-old. I have a couple of jobs. I don’t wish them anything but roaring success. But it’s sort of like a breakup. If you’re dating the quarterback and then you go out with the hockey player, you just go to the hockey games. I don’t think I’ll still go to the football games.