Thanks for the good times. And by that, I mean the girl drama.
On Friday, Barbara Walters is retiring from television and certainly the first female news anchor, frequent 20/20 reporter and soon-to-be former co-host of the estrogen-drenched gabfest The View will be remembered as many things: an icon, a dogged newshound, a ceiling shatterer and a rumoured paramour of Fidel Castro, whom she interviewed for the first time in 1977. For me though, Walters’s most enduring legacy is that of pot-stirrer – as the creator of The View, she was the first television producer to realize the value of onscreen girl drama, the secret ingredient that has defined the show for 17 seasons and lead to copycat productions all over the planet.
I first started watching by accident – I didn’t have cable and I didn’t have a job, which meant CTV was the soundtrack of my days – whatever was on, I was watching, including Babs and her snarky band of premenopausal broads every weekday at 11. This was 2003, so Star Jones had recently started lying about her gastric bypass surgery and would soon start pimping out her wedding to the highest bidder (while her co-hosts looked on in barely concealed horror). It was gossipy, ridiculous, often catty – the high-school cafeteria with celebrity visitors. It was soon appointment television.
That same year, The View began a host hunt that would culminate in the hiring of former Survivor contestant and right-side-of-the-Iron-Lady Republican, Elisabeth Hasselbeck. There were other, more cohesive candidate applicants, but Walters, in her infinite wisdom, chose a woman who could provoke a toaster. She knew that women like to watch other women throw down – over politics, over relationships, over whether or not the world is round.
Yes, there have been some high-minded moments – the co-hosts have interviewed presidents and tackled serious world issues over the years, but as any true View devotee knows, the best moments are when the couch becomes a combat zone. The ultimate example was the 2007 split-screen smackdown between Hasselbeck and Rosie O’Donnell. The topic was Iraq, but the result was Real Housewives on steroids. Hasselbeck threw down again (this time against co-host Whoopi Goldberg) about who gets to use the n-word. Another time Goldberg and Joy Behar stormed offstage after Bill O’Reilly made offensive comments about Muslims. Publicly Walters admonished them for their immaturity. She isn’t one to get into the fray – masterminds usually don’t.
Today the show isn’t nearly as strong as it was then – still I watch. My dad used to scream at the TV during Leafs games –“Losers! Bozos! What the hell??!!” The View is my hockey team and today its captain is retiring. So thank you Barbara Walters, for creating a show that I can’t quit. Even if you can.