On Monday’s episode of “The View,” co-host Joy Behar admitted a crush on the show’s first guest. No, it wasn’t Justin Bieber. It was a political heartthrob — Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old senator from Vermont seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Sanders held his own during two segments at the Hot Topics table opposite the show’s season 19 co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Raven-Symone, Michelle Collins, Paula Faris and Behar.
With his wife, Jane O’Meara, looking on from the second row of the studio audience, Sanders made the case to viewers on why he’d be a strong contender for the White House, hitting a surprisingly policy-driven (for daytime) list of talking points, including healthcare, abortion and social security, before knocking his opponents. “This is not the party of Dwight David Eisenhower,” Sanders said of the Republicans. Then he gamely signed copies of his ’80s folk album for the co-hosts. “He had a firm handshake,” cooed Collins during a commercial break.
After a catastrophic season 18, which saw three of the four co-hosts (Rosie O’Donnell, Nicolle Wallace and Rosie Perez) exit along with the show’s executive producer Bill Wolff amid a steep ratings decline, “The View” is trying to regain its mojo by returning to its roots. When Barbara Walters created the talk show in 1997, it was a place where women could talk about politics and celebrity at the same time. But following the 2012 presidential election, “The View” turned up the celebrity discussions and tried to downplay its political bent, trading in its conservative (Elisabeth Hasselbeck) and liberal (Behar) co-hosts for Jenny McCarthy in 2013. She only lasted ten months.
For season 19, “The View” — now under the watch of former CBS executive Hilary Estey McLoughlin (who started as a consultant over the summer) and consulting producer Candi Carter— recruited Behar back to the table, pairing her with Republican Candace Cameron Bure, who will appear more frequently as a co-host starting in December.
The new season of “The View” kicked off last month with an interview with Elizabeth Warren, where the co-hosts tried to grill the Massachusetts senator on Joe Biden’s White House prospects. Since then, the show has relied on presidential hopefuls from both the Republicans (John Kasich, Lindsey Graham and Ben Carson) and Democrats (Martin O’Malley, who strummed Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” on his guitar) to build buzz. After Donald Trump called in last month, producers are angling for a live appearance from the GOP frontrunner, and they are also pursuing Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Carly Fiorina and Michelle Obama.
“I think the show is relevant now,” says McLoughlin, from the “The View’s” green room following the Sanders interview. “We’re trying to talk about things that are important, and differentiate ourselves from other shows on daytime.” CBS’ knockoff series, “The Talk,” for example, rarely features politicians. “That’s been a real push for us,” McLoughlin explains. “We have people who can handle [politics.] We have talent that understands it. We have generational views.”
Carter says she gauges the Twitter chatter about the show, which spikes during the political conversations. “I think a lot of times you see politicians interviewed, they are interviewed by men,” Carter says. “It’s so refreshing to see women talking about women’s issues with these politicians.” On Monday’s show, abortion was debated in Hot Topics, and it came up again in the Sanders interview. “It’s a hot political season,” Carter says. “You come here, you might get a little smarter. It’s not a calm place. It’s a live show with different opinions.”
Politicians alone can’t save “The View.” The show will also need big celebrity bookings (in the Walters years, “The View” would frequently attract A-list talent like Tom Cruise, Taylor Swift and Sandra Bullock). But thanks, in part, to some of the political gets, ratings for “The View” are slightly up to an average of 2.49 million viewers from last summer’s 2.30 million. In the demographic of women 25 to 54, the show has seen a gain of 63,000 to 530,000 viewers.
Watch a clip of the Sanders interview below.