ABC eyes rotation of temporary co-hosts, lighter conversation topics
ABC executives are finalizing a plan to reboot “The View” next fall, for the second consecutive year, with a flurry of changes that could include the departure of at least one of its regular hosts, Variety has learned.
While moderator Whoopi Goldberg will remain as the face of the struggling daytime talker, the future of two of her co-hosts, Nicolle Wallace and Rosie Perez, is in doubt. One or both women could be dropped because network execs are underwhelmed with their contributions to the show’s signature Hot Topics segment, which is expected to shift focus permanently toward more lighthearted celebrity fluff.
The changes come as instability behind-the-scenes at the show continues, say insiders, which probably isn’t what Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood was hoping for when he shifted oversight of the program from ABC’s daytime division to its ABC News unit as part of a previous reboot effort that brought in Wallace and Perez last September.
A spokeswoman for ABC News declined comment. Reps for both Wallace and Perez did not respond to inquiries for comment.
Executives are facing pressure from affiliates to rescue “The View” from a significant ratings drop following Barbara Walters’ retirement in May 2014. In the second quarter of this year, “The View” averaged 2.48 million viewers (down 16% from last year) and only 386,000 women in the key 18-to-49 demo (down 18%).
“The View” will aim for a five-woman co-host format next year, according to a source with knowledge of the plans. Former Disney star Raven Symone, who was recently announced as a new co-host, will be returning.
Also possibly joining: comedian Michelle Collins, who has been testing for a permanent spot on “The View” ever since Rosie O’Donnell suddenly departed in the middle of this season. ABC is negotiating a deal with Collins (of the Web talk show “Martini Minute”) that could be finalized soon, Variety has learned.
But the show will also assemble a bench of six to eight rotating co-hosts that will sporadically fill in on the show with Goldberg and Symone. Among those on the short list: stylist Stacy London and model Molly Sims, both of whom have been appearing as substitutes on the show. ABC is casting a wide net for these rotating slots, looking at ABC News and “GMA” anchors, as well as actors and reality stars. Sources say they are especially eager to find another Latina co-host, though they haven’t settled on a candidate yet.
The ratio of permanent-to-temporary co-hosts next season hasn’t been determined, but the balance could help ABC keep costs down instead of handing out multimillion-dollar salaries like the one paid to O’Donnell, who cut short her return to “The View,” citing health reasons, in February.
In the winter, ABC bosses reached a decision to quietly let Perez go from “The View,” until a Variety story announced the plan before they were ready, forcing them to backtrack. But if Perez does exit the show this time, the decision could be mutual, according to sources, since the actress has been thinking about returning to movies.
As for Wallace, she’s been heard joking with staff that she could be booted from “The View” at any minute. The former White House communications director, who has a second job as a commentator on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” hasn’t ignited the Hot Topics table in the way that the show’s former resident Republican, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, did, and has been criticized for her lack of knowledge about celebrities. “She’s too wonky,” says a source.
Instead of being a regular co-host, ABC is also considering a scenario where Wallace shifts to a spot on the rotating panel.
There’s been added drama behind-the-scenes, too. The co-hosts haven’t been taking direction from the new executive producer Bill Wolff, who was brought on by Sherwood with a multiyear contract. Wolff (“The Rachel Maddow Show”) doesn’t have any experience programming to stay-at-home moms and dads, and sources say he’s not comfortable in the celebrity zone. “I don’t know if he’s made for this position,” one insider says.
The executive producer found himself in an embarrassing situation recently when the co-hosts went on a celebratory lunch with Symone and returned an hour late for a second taping, leaving him stranded with guests wondering when the cameras would roll.
Whoever is doing the talking on the 19th season of “The View,” they can expect to continue in the less substantive direction that’s become more evident on Hot Topics. More and more discussions are devoted to reality TV and “Flash Sales,” where the co-hosts peddle merchandise a la QVC.
There’s still work to be done to keep “The View” from seeming disjointed. On an episode this week, the co-hosts found themselves throwing softballs at CNN host Fareed Zakaria, who was plugging a book about the benefits of studying liberal arts in college, before jumping to a segment about skin-care tips.
“The View” has also struggled with A-list bookings — recent guests have included Sam Waterston (promoting Shakespeare in the Park), “The Big Bang Theory’s” Kunal Nayyar and VH1 rapper reality stars T.I. and Tiny.
“The View’s” divided direction this season could be the result of the number of executives that have been overseeing the show, including Tom Cibrowski, senior VP of programs, and Barbara Fedida, senior VP for talent and business. They report to James Goldston, who succeeded Sherwood as president of ABC News.
There’s been plenty of turnover behind the camera this season. “The View’s” director Ashley S. Gorman, who moved from England for the job, has bailed along with a handful of producers. Randall Barone, a daytime executive who has been with “The View” for many seasons, was moved off the show to only focus on “The Chew.” And ABC is still looking for a No. 2 to oversee the celebrity content after the show lost co-executive producer Brian Balthazar in February.
The problems with “The View” have been a headache for Sherwood, who has long had the dream of adding an extra hour of “Good Morning America,” which could be produced cheaply and compete with “Today’s” additional two hours of programming. Sherwood’s options for expanding in the 9 a.m. hour are limited because the ABC O&Os and many ABC affiliates have long-term contractual commitments to the Disney-distributed syndicated hit “Live With Kelly and Michael” in that time slot. But a source familiar with his thinking notes that he can restart “GMA” an hour later.
That may happen in 2016 if Goldberg doesn’t renew her contract and “The View” can’t be saved.