The behind-the-scenes melodrama at ABC’s The View amped up Tuesday when departing co-host Abby Huntsman didn’t comply with network executives’ urgent entreaty to contradict a CNN story and the New York Post’s Page Six, among others, describing the show’s “toxic culture,” at the same moment that she was being trashed by nasty leaks and a hatchet job on The Daily Mail’s website.
“They threw Abby under the bus,” a View insider told The Daily Beast, the day after Huntsman announced on the popular daytime show that this Friday will be her last day—nearly eight months short of her contract that runs through the end of the current (23rd) season—and that she will decamp to Utah to help run the 2020 gubernatorial campaign of her father, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Before Tuesday’s live show, according to multiple sources, Senior Executive Producer Hilary Estey McLoughlin and Barbara Fedida, ABC News’ senior vice president for talent, editorial strategy, and business affairs, asked Huntsman to go on-camera and counter reports of internal strife by putting a positive spin on The View’s supposedly collegial workplace instead of the scorpions-in-a-bottle ambiance that is frequently portrayed in the tabloids.
But Huntsman, in her second year on The View, instead took the advice of the talk show’s moderator Whoopi Goldberg, whom the 33-year-old mother of three young children considers a mentor; Goldberg, 64, told her not to do it, sources said, because she had already said her warm goodbyes and praised her co-workers on Monday’s episode “as the smartest women I’ve ever worked with,” adding, “I love all of you here”—and why fuel tabloid gossip by being defensive?
Indeed, The View has a rich and colorful history of intrigues, fights, and explosions among the on-air co-hosts involving the show’s creator, Barbara Walters, and co-hosts Star Jones, Rosie O’Donnell, Goldberg, and others—all chronicled in ferocious detail by Ramin Setoodeh’s recent book Ladies Who Punch.
Huntsman—who declined an interview request for this article—had complained in the past to Fedida and others about poisonous leaks in the tabloids that, accurately or not, recounted (and occasionally heightened) internal squabbling among The View’s on-air talent, especially in recent months between Huntsman and her fellow Republican panelist and longtime friend Meghan McCain.
The two had a backstage blowup after the Dec. 12 show, when Huntsman, Joy Behar, and Sunny Hostin—all mothers—engaged in an extended “Hot Topics” discussion about parenting and breastfeeding. McCain, who wrote painfully last July about a recent miscarriage in The New York Times, bristled: “I’ve never breast-fed anything, I’m sorry. I always feel like there’s this moment on the show where I have so much to say about politics, I have so much to say about the election, so much to say about the candidates! Breast-feeding? I got nothing for you guys.”
As the show was going off the air, Behar quipped, “I say nurse the cactus!” and then chuckled as McCain, daughter of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, looked like she’d been smacked in the face. (“Joy’s comment was a quip that went wrong,” an ABC insider told The Daily Beast.)
Off-camera, McCain—who also declined an interview request—then laced into her pal Huntsman, accusing her of never saying anything in her defense on the air; Huntsman emotionally rejected McCain’s charge, claiming that she had always supported her friend and “had her back,” according to a person familiar with the details of the argument.
“It’s unsustainable,” said a View insider, who claimed reports of the show’s “toxic culture” are accurate.
McCain and Huntsman stopped speaking for a while, sources said, but recently patched things up, and the two women hugged each other after Huntsman’s announcement. “Meghan, we’ll be friends forever,” Huntsman told her on camera. “I’m heartbroken you’re leaving,” McCain responded.
Huntsman’s warm feelings about the show came to an abrupt end, however, with The Daily Mail’s “exclusive” that claimed that she “left her co-hosting job on The View because her future at the popular talk show was hanging on by a thread,” that “network executives had been considering phasing her out of her coveted seat,” and that “show research revealed viewers found Abby ‘bland’ and didn’t feel that she had a clear point of view.”
The story continued: “Now with Abby out the door, ABC is trying to find a way to convince Friday co-host Ana Navarro to commit more time to the show, as bosses rave about the Republican… The proud never-Trumper has become a fan-favorite on the show, especially for her ability to keep Meghan McCain in check.”
Amid rampant internal speculation about who trashed Huntsman to The Daily Mail—including all the obvious suspects—Senior Executive Producer McLoughlin told The Daily Beast: “The story is categorically untrue,” and that Huntsman has been a highly-valued co-host.
As for recruiting Navarro for a regular co-hosting gig, “We’re not focused on replacing Abby right now,” McLoughlin said.
—With additional reporting by Justin Baragona