When Bill Wolff started as the executive producer of “The View” last fall, he was heralded at ABC as a force that would rejuvenate the morning talk show in its 18th season. Eleven months later, “The View” is a pale shadow of its old self. Three of the four co-hosts — Rosie O’Donnell, Rosie Perez and Nicolle Wallace — have left under Wolff’s watch. Viewership is down 16% in the second quarter of this year compared to 2014, and for the first time the show has a smaller audience (2.52 million) than that of CBS rival “The Talk” (2.55 million).
As “The View” prepares for the season 19 premiere next week, Wolff announced on Monday afternoon that he will exit the talk show despite his multi-year contract. Although Wolff is telling the staff it was his decision to leave, sources tell Variety he was never a good fit for the show from the start, with his rocky tenure marked by talent and staff exoduses, behind-the-scenes chaos and declining ratings.
A rep for ABC and Wolff didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The stakes for “The View’s” success in season 19 are high. Disney/ABC Group president Ben Sherwood made fixing the show one of his top priorities, and local affiliates have been vocal about the ratings slide. A new panel of co-hosts for season 19 has been cobbled together for a Sept. 8 premiere without much rehearsal time: returning moderator Whoopi Goldberg, comedian Michelle Collins, “GMA Weekend” anchor Paula Faris, ex-Disney star Raven-Symone, Joy Behar and the new resident conservative Candace Cameron Bure.
Insiders say the writing about Wolff’s departure was on the wall with the arrival in late July of former CBS executive Hilary Estey McLoughlin, who was brought on as a consultant to rescue “The View.” She’s now spearheading changes on “The View” for next week’s reboot, working with the ABC News team that Sherwood ordered to take control of the show from the daytime division last October. Sources say that in recent months, Wolff felt like the ABC News team had started to sideline him, and he was publicly negative about the executives in charge, arguing they didn’t give him enough feedback to succeed.
For now, “The View’s” daily duties will be handled by consulting producer Candi Carter, who will serve as the interim executive producer. She’ll report to the ABC News team and oversee the show’s day-to-day production. McLoughlin will serve a larger role, making new hires and advising on the show’s strategy for publicity, marketing and booking.
ABC bosses are hopeful that Wolff’s exit will add some stability to “The View,” which has been like a rudderless ship since Barbara Walters retired in 2014 and longtime executive producer Bill Geddie exited with her. Under normal circumstances, insiders say, Wolff may have been moved off the show sooner. But the situation was sensitive, because Wolff’s hiring came at the insistence of Sherwood. Both men hail from Harvard and know each other as producers who came up in the New York media world, and Wolff was given an expensive contract to lure him from MSNBC.
But the former “Rachel Maddow Show” producer was never a good fit for a daytime talk show targeted to stay-at-home moms, sources tell Variety. He wasn’t informed about lifestyle or celebrity segments, the bread-and-butter of daytime, and he wasn’t used to working on a show with four women with strong — and often conflicting — personalities.
For example, when O’Donnell and Goldberg couldn’t agree on when to start the Hot Topics meetings (O’Donnell wanted an earlier time), Wolff wasn’t able to ease tensions. He was responsible for hiring Perez as a last-minute co-host for season 18, since he’d known her as a guest pundit on MSNBC. He selected her without conducting a chemistry test with the other co-hosts, who were taken by surprise by her hiring. (“I didn’t even know she was being considered,” O’Donnell quipped to Variety last year, although Perez ended up getting along with her co-hosts.) He’d bonded with Perez in his interview by talking about their mutual love of boxing, but “The View” hasn’t traditionally been a show about sports. ABC bosses quickly soured on Perez, blaming her for a decline in viewership. He also struggled to manage O’Donnell, who thought the producer of “The View” was weak and exited in February, citing health concerns as a result of a chaotic work environment.
“No one was leading the show,” says another source. Staffers say he’d defer major decisions to the ABC News executives that have been micro-managing “The View.” The co-hosts were putting together the Hot Topics segments on their own, with little input from their executive producer, sources say.
But others maintain that Wolff tried his best to keep the show together as the ABC News team kept changing what they wanted from “The View,” asking for less politics and more celebrity fluff and flash sales. “No one lost more sleep worrying about the human beings who work at ‘The View’ than Bill Wolff,” says one insider. “He cared deeply for the staff, the producers, the crew and the on air folks.”
“The View’s” producing was so wobbly last season that it regularly came under critical scrutiny. Earlier this summer, Yahoo TV critic Ken Tucker pointed out that the show’s opening credits teased a story about Donald Trump that never made it into the broadcast, and bungled an emotional interview with Kelly Rutherford about the custody fight for her children by adding an ABC News pundit. On another episode, the show teased a segment about Naomi Campbell’s arrest that never materialized.
For 17 years, “The View” chugged along with only occasional interference from ABC under the direction of longtime executive producer Geddie, who launched the talk show with Walters in 1997. But after it was obvious that Geddie would be out last fall (O’Donnell didn’t get along with him either), ABC realized “The View” needed a new manager. But Wolff wasn’t everybody’s choice for the job. Daytime executives, who worked on “The View” through last summer, had wanted to hire Brian Balthazar, a former producer from “Today,” to lead “The View.” That’s when a tug-of-war ensued: The ABC News executives passed over Balthazar (who was instead named co-executive producer) and hired Wolff instead.
There’s been a staff exodus on the show under Wolff, including Balthazar (who left in February), the show’s director Ashley Gorman and several producers. Earlier this month, “The View” announced a new co-executive producer, Brian Teta, a supervising producer from “The Late Show With David Letterman.”
Wolff came to “The View” in a highly publicized trade, after ABC released “ESPN” programmer Jamie Horowitz, who was named general manager of “Today,” in exchange for him. But Horowitz was fired from NBC in November, after a controversial plan to reshuffle “Today’s” anchors, and Wolff’s tenure at “The View” didn’t fare much better.