On Friday, “The View” opened with a conversation about the father of Santa Barbara mass shooter Elliott Rodger. The Hot Topics segment was meant to prompt a debate about whether parents of murderers really know their children, but the conversation went nowhere fast. Jenny McCarthy launched into a non-sequitur about how the tragedy is hurting kids with Asperger’s Syndrome (even though it’s not clear if Rodger was ever diagnosed with that). Sherri Shepherd remained silent. And guest co-host and former “Apprentice” winner Bill Rancic lectured the audience about not “living in a bubble.” The only member of the panel with an actual point of view was Whoopi Goldberg, who has been carrying the talk show since creator Barbara Walters retired last month.
The “View” avoided another Hot Topic, because the show had been taped in advance. ABC confirmed on Thursday afternoon that both McCarthy and Shepherd will not be returning for season 18, leaving Goldberg as the only remaining co-host. It’s a daunting task to try to rebuild a personality-driven TV series with a new ensemble — just look at the implosion of “American Idol” after Simon Cowell fled. But “The View” has been down this road before. In 2006, it lost Meredith Vieira to “Today,” and let Star Jones go, only to see its ratings rapidly jump. The superstar who saved “The View”? A wallflower named Rosie.
If Rosie O’Donnell could rescue “The View” once, could she do it again? Rumors are swirling that ABC is contemplating her return, against what insiders are describing as a chaotic work environment on the show. O’Donnell famously left “The View” in 2007 after an on-air shouting match with Elisabeth Hasselbeck that went viral. But in her season of the show, O’Donnell managed to boost “The View’s” viewership, and turned it into appointment television. If it wasn’t for Rosie’s single turbulent year, it’s not clear if the calmer Whoopi-era of “The View” would have gotten the same attention.
When I spoke to Walters before her retirement for a Variety cover story, she bristled at the suggestion that “The View” was at its best with Rosie at the table. “People like controversy,” Walters said in March. “I do think it was entertaining, and I think what happened was that Rosie imploded.” Walters said she had no hard feelings. “Rosie O’Donnell is a great talent,” Walters said. “She also has some, shall we say, emotional problems.” O’Donnell and Walters made up enough for O’Donnell to return to “The View” as a guest in February. But even that wasn’t without conflict. “There were some people behind-the-scenes who were not happy,” Walters said. “They’d had difficulties with Rosie.”
By “some people,” she may have meant executive producer Bill Geddie. O’Donnell clashed with him often, and made no secret of their acrimonious working relationship. For example, O’Donnell didn’t approve of the earpieces that Geddie required his co-hosts to wear so he could communicate with them throughout the show. But TMZ is reporting that Geddie, who has been with the show since its inception in 1997, could be on his way out too (he championed the hiring of McCarthy last year). If he’s really gone, an O’Donnell return could be more realistic.
After the 2012 election, ABC execs had wanted a less political “View,” which is why Hasselbeck (the conservative) and Joy Behar (the liberal) mysteriously, and simultaneously, exited the show. But now the network seems to have changed its mind. McCarthy’s lack of depth on heftier topics have made it clear that politics are in the DNA of “The View.” The mindless gossiping about celebrities doesn’t work for “The View” like it works for “The Talk,” the CBS knockoff launched in 2010.
Throughout the summer, ABC has been experimenting with various other co-hosts. And, for the most part, the results have been disastrous. The political guests don’t know much about entertainment, and the entertainment hosts aren’t political (and many of them are just boring on TV). Rosie’s greatest strength is how comfortably she inhabits both worlds. The show is also considering adding a man to the panel, which is why they are testing Rancic, but this might be an ill-advised fix. When Walters launched “The View,” it was the only place on television for women to debate about important topics. We already have enough men fighting on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and other cable outlets. “The View” should stay female-centric.
If ABC wants “The View” to survive for another few seasons, Rosie is probably the show’s best bet. Most of the women who grew up watching her on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” are now moms themselves, and will tune in for more Rosie (who is now 52). She’s available to take the job. Her recent talk show on OWN, which she worked on in 2011, was quickly cancelled — though it wasn’t entirely her fault. None of the programming on OWN was working back then. A Rosie return on network TV would be different. If she’s back, ABC could find other co-hosts who wouldn’t create waves in the Rosie pool. Come to think of it, since they’re hiring, “The View” should bring back Joy Behar too.