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When ABC first launched The View in 1997, it promoted the show with a poster that named “a journalist, a mom, a lawyer, a young woman, a comedian who will say anything and Barbara Walters.”
“That poster told you all you needed to know,” said Bill Geddie, who co-founded The View with Walters and went on to serve as co-executive producer until 2014. “No one said, ‘I need my name on there.’ These women, besides Barbara, were not household names. I think that was important because we got to shape the show.”
Walters famously came up with the idea that daytime television needed a program composed of a panel of five multi-generational women discussing the issues of the day.
“About 22 years ago, Barbara and I were shooting a special,” Geddie said. “We had a lot of time, as you do on these shoots. She said to me, ‘Do you think people would watch a daytime show with a multigenerational panel? I had this conversation with my daughter Jackie and we came at everything we talked about from different angles.’ ”
That was the start of The View, which premiered on ABC on August 11, 1997.
The View is now entering its 21st season, and at its core it remains the show Walters first imagined. But that the show was going to end up having such a long run was anything but certain in the early days.
Off the bat, it aired in the 11 a.m. time slot, which had hosted failure after failure. ABC affiliates had given up on the hour and bought syndicated programs to air instead. And before the show went on the air, then-ABC News president Roone Arledge made Walters nervous by telling her, “You don’t want this time slot, it could wreck your career.”
Moreover, Walters was entering her sixties; and more than one person said to Geddie, “No one wants to see a woman on the air beyond the age of 60.”
All of that gave Walters cold feet, but it was a month before the show was scheduled to premiere. Geddie reassured her: “ ‘We’ll do it for two years and you don’t have to be on it every day. You can be on when you want to and we’ll tailor those shows around you.’ She wanted to do it because she thought it would be fun, but she was very nervous about it.”
Turns out, it was fun — and smart — though it took daytime audiences a while to figure that out.
The initial panel featured Debbie Matenopoulos, Star Jones, Meredith Vieira, Joy Behar and Walters — women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, respectively. But it wasn’t the age spread that mattered, Geddie knew. It was the chemistry of the women.
And for the most part, the panel had that chemistry, with the exception of the inexperienced Matenopoulos. By the end of the first season, it was clear that she wasn’t working, so Geddie let Matenopolous go, though he remains “very good friends” with her to this day.
He held a contest to pick who would take her chair, and ratings climbed. Lisa Ling joined the show in May 1999, and although Geddie thought ratings would drop with her arrival, they didn’t.
“I don’t think people realize how important Lisa was to saving the show,” Geddie said. From then on, The View took its place in the pantheon of daytime TV.
“Everyone does this concept now — there are three or four knockoffs in syndication alone,” Geddie said. “But this concept was pretty radical in that moment. We won over our affiliates one day at a time. We built up to that 100% daytime clearance.”
Today, The View is hosted by an almost entirely different panel — Whoopi Goldberg, Sara Haines, Sunny Hostin, Paula Faris and Behar, who left the show in 2013 and returned in 2015 after the show went through a period of instability, rotating panelists and a barrage of negative stories. Rosie O’Donnell came and went twice, creating turmoil — and ratings — during both tenures. Walters retired in 2014 at age 84, and that ushered the show into a new era.
“In 2017, people are changing the way they watch TV, but the genius of what Barbara Walters did was put a show on that’s live and filled with opinions,” said Brian Teta, executive producer. “Our show still defies DVRs. People want to tune in when it’s happening.”
Today, things at The View are even-keeled under senior executive producer Hilary Estey McLoughlin and executive producers Candi Carter and Teta. Panelists come and go — conservative co-host Jedidiah Bila left in September — but there’s an overall consistency. Meghan McCain, columnist, author and daughter of Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), replaced Bila in early October.
“This content definitely speaks to the audience and what people are constantly talking about now,” Estey McLoughlin said. “We intentionally evolved the show to reflect that.”
Estey McLoughlin was key in bringing Behar back: “I missed Joy on the show, so I thought other people probably did too,” she said. “Joy not only has the humor but she understands the show innately.”
“I don’t come from a mean place and I think that gets communicated,” said Behar, who’s coming out with a book about President Donald Trump on Oct. 24 titled The Great Gasbag: An A to Z Guide to Surviving in Trump World. “I’m very pointed and I’m edgy, and I say what’s on my mind, and I take no prisoners. But I don’t have an evil intent. It’s coming from a place of, ‘Let’s get this country to be better.’ ”
In the end, The View’s legacy is that it gives women of all ages an hour in daytime that is all theirs.
“That’s what makes The View more unique than the other shows that have mimicked the format,” said Carter. “This is a very smart conversation that’s happening in daytime. We talk about politics, breaking news and things that happen in our lives — you just don’t see a group of smart women doing that anywhere else in daytime.”
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