Bye Bye, Hasselbeck

07.10.13

Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s Tearful Last ‘The View,’ and Why We’ll Miss Her

After a decade of controversy, the staunch conservative bids goodbye to ‘The View.’ But after her last episode airs, Kevin Fallon wonders, can she be replaced?

The View is about to look out farther to the left.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the plucky blonde conservative who sat alongside Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, and a rotating cast of other hosts for a decade, announced on the ABC morning program Wednesday that it would be her last show. The announcement confirmed reports that came out Tuesday saying that the host had been poached by Fox News to replace Gretchen Carlson on the panel of the morning program Fox and Friends. Hasselbeck and Walters began Wednesday morning’s show by tearfully walking to the Hot Topics table arm in arm, after which Walters kicked off a seven-minute lovefest among the show’s hosts by confirming the news of Hasselbeck’s exit.

Quoting that other Babs, Streisand, Walters said that she was “verklempt” about Hasselbeck’s departure, before bungling her congratulations with a snafu that’s sure to reignite reports that the show’s producers are relieved to be rid of Hasselbeck’s right-leaning viewpoint. “I’m happy that you’re going,” Walters said, before realizing her mistake. “No! I’m not happy that you’re going,” she retracted, flustered, before passing it over to Hasselbeck to officially announce her exit.

She began by thanking the show’s crew, before moving on to her co-hosts. She called Whoopi Goldberg “one of the most talented artists on this planet.” She cracked to Joy Behar that she was “my little putana,” before gushing about how much respect she had for her and her “ability to throw a one-liner in and make me laugh even when I don’t want to.” Sherri Shepherd, who was absent from the show Wednesday morning, Hasselbeck called “my sister in Christ.”

Her ode to Walters followed, which focused more on their professional than personal relationship. Hasselbeck estimated that she’s spent over 3,000 days working next to the esteemed journalist, saying that “over the course of the decade I have attended the Barbara Walters School of Broadcast Journalism.” She then, a tad bizarrely, rattled off a list of her credentials—interviewing politicians, chatting with presidents, learning to articulate her beliefs—concluding, “I feel more than prepared at this point because of all you have given to me, more than prepared and confident to move forward.”

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Then it was time for Hasselbeck to feel the love.

“Fox, gee, won’t you be a fish out of water there?” Behar joked before offering a sincere appreciation for the role Hasselbeck played on the show: “Everyone always thinks we were mad at each other, which we never were.” Goldberg was more to the point. “I just think you’re the cat’s meow,” she said.

But it was Walters, who told Hasselbeck that she has “enormous affection for you,” who made the best point: “We do feel that you always brought a fresh voice to this show and you stood by your opinion even when things got heated—that’s not an easy thing to do.”

It’s true. Over the years, it has become far too easy to ridicule Hasselbeck for proudly being on that lonely limb as the show’s sole conservative voice—especially since she didn’t just sit on that limb. She jumped up and down and did the hokey pokey and shouted to the rooftops from it. Being so vocal about her opinions has made her a media punching bag. The Daily Beast’s Tricia Romano recently described her as “infuriating, shrill, wrong, and annoying,” for example.

But it’s worth remembering that Hasselbeck has been beaten down repeatedly over the years and doggedly held her head high in a way that not many people could.

Remember when an episode of Law & Order: SVU featured a character named Elizabeth Hassenback, who was raped twice and then murdered by a sociopath? Or when Bill Maher said after Lara Logan’s return to the U.S. following her sexual assault in Egypt that Hasselbeck should be sent over in her place?

And there’s the infamous verbal brawl she had in 2007 with then-co-host Rosie O’Donnell about the war in Iraq. O’Donnell, who left the show soon after the argument, is remembered as the victim in the incident, after bemoaning that she’d be portrayed by the media as the big, fat, lesbian, loud Rosie bullying poor Elisabeth, and claiming that the producers manipulated the show by doing a side-by-side cut of their sparring in order to exploit her. Though she was just as much a victim of manipulation, six years later it’s Hasselbeck who is remembered as the villain.

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And while it would be insane not to concede that Hasselbeck’s flippant, obstinate squawking of her personal beliefs and refusal to budge from her staunch platform during an argument was irritating, it would also be insane not to admit that those very things weren’t vital parts of what made the show work.

The View’s very premise is dialogue. If every panel member is of the same opinion, that’s not dialogue. It’s preaching. While Hasselbeck’s stances have been controversial—whether she’s tearfully bantering with Whoopi over the use of the N word, sparring with Melissa Etheridge over gay marriage, or badgering President Obama over his politics—they reflect a point of view that much of the nation shares. Using Hasselbeck to ignite fiery debates has been critical to the show’s larger purpose. (Not to mention great television.)

Walters said Wednesday that Hasselbeck’s departure is “going to leave a big void at this table,” and she’s right. Though Walters also said there are no immediate plans to fill that void, TMZ reports that Brooke Shields is in talks to replace her. Shields, however, is a Democrat. That of course shouldn’t be a liability or a demerit on her resume, but when you consider the role that Hasselbeck played on the show, it may indicate that Shields is not the perfect piece to fit that puzzle.

While Hasselbeck’s last episode began warmly enough, it concluded with a look at the uncomfortable banter we’re in for in her absence. What should have been a poignant moment as the credits rolled on Hasselbeck’s final episode, Behar blurted, “Barbara, you know I was just thinking, you know you wear two hats—one as a journalist, the other as a lesbian?” As Walters stood dumbstruck, this peculiar exchange followed.

Behar: You have been attracted to Elisabeth, lookin’ at her body for 10 years!
Walters: She’s got the greatest body!
Behar: So who are you gonna? I can’t fulfill this because I’ll be gone. Whoopi…
Goldberg: Don’t look at me, man. Don’t look at me!
Walters: Who’s toosh am I gonna push? Listen, on a serious note, I have not just pushed your toosh, but you know how I feel about you, how all of us do. This is your last day with us, we all wish you everything good. Just come back and visit us now and then.
Behar: Where’s the free cake?

And there you have it, the future of a Hasselbeck-less View. Miss her yet?