A View from the Top
Clearly, these are women well accustomed to sitting around and chatting. After a long morning of live broadcasting and a photo shoot, Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the five hosts of ABC's The View, are finally getting a break. They slouch into the shabby chic furniture at a Manhattan photo studio, all except the indefatigable Walters, who, perched in a Queen Anne armchair, doesn't seem to have a "slouch" gene in her. Right now, though, the hot topic they're debating isn't Sarah Palin or transgender kids -- all recent heated discussions. Instead, they are talking about the compelling cocktail of their personalities that has made The View more popular than ever, even as it enters its 13th year on the air.
"We didn't think it would last one year," says Walters, who created the show in 1996. In the beginning there was pressure to make the show appealing to a younger audience, but that wasn't giving the viewers enough credit. As Behar, 66, points out, "A 23-year-old isn't going to say, 'I can only identify with someone who's 23.' She can identify with me, or Barbara, or any of us as long as she cares about the subjects we discuss." Not only has the show lasted -- and thrived -- but Walters has claimed the last laugh: The show's average audience is a whopping 4.1 million viewers, proof that women are looking for a lot more than chitty-chat fluff and sticky-bun bake-offs.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery -- or the best acknowledgment of cultural currency -- the show is clearly doing something right. Goldberg, 53, Shepherd, 42, and Hasselbeck, 32, appeared on HBO's Entourage, and Saturday Night Live sends up the show (with a skeweringly good Behar impersonation by Fred Armisen). And if anyone's looking for a catfight, they likely will not find it; yes, the women argue, but there isn't quite the venom there was during Rosie O'Donnell's tenure. We got the hosts to discuss their chemistry, their occasional foot-in-mouth moments, and how they've made having strong opinions -- staunchly expressed -- downright ladylike.
LHJ: Barbara, how carefully do you balance the chemistry of the group?
Barbara: The chemistry is the most important thing. We have been imitated again and again -- by men, by other programs -- and the thought is there should be one older person, one comedian, one black person, and one younger person, and that will make it work. And it doesn't. Our roles on the show have changed and I think we're better than ever because of this group: We're more political, funny, and still very smart and extremely relevant. We're not afraid to argue and certainly not afraid to disagree because the chemistry is so good.
LHJ: Has the audience grown because the topics have gotten hotter, from Barack Obama's election to Michael Jackson's death?
Barbara: I think so. Part of it is because we just came out of a political year. The amazing thing is, I never thought this show would last more than one year. Joy and I are the only survivors.
Joy: Elisabeth was on Survivor, but Barbara and I are the survivors.
LHJ: It seems as though you offer a unique forum because you represent a lot of different perspectives and you ask tough questions, but you don't vilify or lampoon any of the politicians.
Barbara: They aren't lampooned but they're not always happy.
Sherri: John McCain was not happy. I don't know if he and his wife thought we were going to bake cookies, but we asked some really tough questions. Cindy McCain said she felt that we weren't fair to him.
Elisabeth: Joy called him a liar.
Joy: I didn't call him a liar; I said his campaign ad was lying.
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