In 1997, when producer Bill Geddie asked Barbara Walters if she had any ideas for a daytime program, she happened to have something in mind. Inspired by “This Week With David Brinkley” and Virginia Graham’s 1960s talkshow “Girl Talk,” Walters suggested a roundtable featuring women of different backgrounds and opinions, chatting on various subjects, with a few celebrity guests thrown into the mix.
The first episode of “The View” aired on Aug. 11, 1997.
“I never thought it would last more than two years,” Walters says. “The first year, I spent half my time calling program directors asking them to carry ‘The View.’ ”
Today, 11 years later, after several well-publicized host changes, the Emmy-winning show has become a tastemaker among women.
There were concerns that ratings would drop after Rosie O’Donnell’s departure last year, but “The View’s” numbers actually rose by 7% two weeks after replacement host Whoopi Goldberg took over. Co-hosts are Walters, Joy Behar and Elizabeth Hasselbeck, with newest addition Sherri Shepherd.
“I think people are looking at Whoopi in a new light,” says Walters. “We have been fortunate that the chemistry has worked, and we’ve been very careful, Bill Geddie and I, about who we choose. We don’t just pick anybody. … It’s no accident that we have an Elizabeth Hasselbeck who represents a different point of view.”
“The View” has succeeded by creating a dynamic unprecedented in women’s talkshows, in which hosts and guests are encouraged to engage intellectually and speak their minds. “It’s a program that tackles everything from politics to morality,” Walters says. “Politically people are using ‘The View.’ ” So much so that the show has become a kind of political forum. In June, Michelle Obama appeared as a co-host; Cindy McCain co-hosted in April. Barack Obama is slated to appear for a second time.
The women also gossip, making the show as entertaining as it is newsy. “I have a sort of funny role,” says Walters. “I am an ABC News correspondent, but this is … a daytime entertainment program that the network and I own together. But a lot of women do get their news from it, just as people get their news from Jon Stewart.”
The formula has been attempted on other networks, but they’ve been unsuccessful at finding that pitch-perfect (and elusive) merger of controversy and girl-talk unique to “The View.”
“It’s ephemeral,” says Walters. “I don’t know how you talk about chemistry, how it works or doesn’t. … We will argue with each other, we will disagree, we will shout at each other, but there is affection, there is understanding. I’m crazy about these women.”
“Each lady on the panel gives a woman something different,” says Shepherd. “I get, ‘Sherri, you’re so real.’ I represent those women who don’t know about politics, who aren’t afraid to say, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ … I’m learning so much from these women. They don’t put me down. They’re so patient with me.”
“The View” will go into its 12th season with the same lineup in place. After several seasons of drama and feuds — Star Jones, O’Donnell vs. Trump — the current team has found harmony while remaining hot. “The fact that we have two African-American women is just great,” says Walters. A reassurance, perhaps, that female audiences aren’t simply after catfights. Women, after all, are far more complicated than that.
Role model: “I didn’t have anybody. In those days, there were so few women that had any position in television.”
Career mantra: “I think it’s endurance, I think it’s doing your job and not whining, and it has to be some luck.”
What I’m reading now: ‘Barack Obama’s ‘Dreams From My Father.’ ”
Fave leisure activity: “A day in the park with my son is heaven.”