Returning to The View was the last thing on Joy Behar’s mind when the new senior executive producer, Telepictures and CBS Television veteran Hilary Estey McLoughlin, reached her two summers ago in Provincetown, Mass.
“I was walking around looking for drag shows, and she called me and asked me to come back,” said the 74-year-old, flame-haired standup comic and former cable television talk show host, who’d been one of The View’s original panelists two decades ago when the program launched, but had left in 2013 with a sense of ennui.
The once-buzzworthy daytime show seemed to have gone squishy and giddy, supplanting politics—Behar’s love—with endless “Hot Topics” discussions of fashion, beauty tips, and Kardashian-like celebs.
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, it had become increasingly fractious. “Let’s see, how do I put this?” Behar told The Daily Beast, with uncharacteristic caution. “There were people, along the way, that had different agendas. They were major, big personalities. A lot of it was unconscious sibling rivalries that go on, as it probably does on every show where there’s a team.”
Not so long ago, ABC’s women-centric talkfest—now killing it in its 20th season, in large part due to the fascinating if alarming spectacle of President Donald Trump—occasionally resembled a snake pit behind the camera and a clown show in front of it.
By year 17 in 2014, show creator Barbara Walters had finally retired at age 84, and it looked very much as if the wheels were coming off. The abrupt dismissal of Walters’s original handpicked producer and business partner Bill Geddie, along with a dizzying parade of transient cohosts and show runners, reports of backstage squabbling and diva histrionics—especially by Rosie O’Donnell (who returned to the panel in late 2014 after a five-year absence, only to depart a few months later, blaming stress and ill-health)—resulted in a collective sense of exhaustion and softening ratings against copycat competitors such as CBS’s The Talk.
In an on-air display of wrath in July 2014, Whoopi Goldberg, who’d moderated The View’s “Hot Topics” table since September 2007, lectured the entertainment media and chattering tabloids, as her soon-to-be-fired cohost, Jenny McCarthy, placed a hand on her shoulder in a vain attempt to calm her.
“There’s a lot of speculation about a lot of stuff going on here,” Goldberg declared. “We are not little kids. We are grown-ass women. I’m tired of people saying, ‘Oh, if this one comes in, if this one comes in.’ I don’t argue with people. We have spirited discussions. I don’t fight with people. It’s not my way. Quit trying to make me into something I’m not. I’m not a little girl with cat claws. I’m not a cat. I’m a human being. A girl with a fist—OK?”
Behar recounted: “I didn’t really need it. I was reluctant. They’d had such craziness there. But Hilary basically convinced me to come back by saying we’re not just gonna be ‘how you wear your hair’—although I don’t mind those types of topics, just not constantly—but that we were going to be substantive.”
Codifying the fresh focus, The View—until three years ago a creature of ABC Entertainment—was placed under the supervision of the news division.
“It was fortuitous that the point at which we took control of the show, especially more recently, coincided with a moment where politics and the Trump phenomenon has essentially become the culture,” ABC News president James Goldston told The Daily Beast. “And all the things that The View has historically touched upon are now all filtered through that prism…It is a very newsy show and it actually has, at this moment, a real seriousness of purpose.”
The chemistry, so far, appears to be working. In the midst of the May ratings sweeps on which advertising rates are set, The View is consistently beating its rival The Talk in both total viewers (an average of 2,637,000 to The Talk’s 2,357,000 for the week of May 15), and the ad-friendly target demographics of women 25-54 and women 18-49.
The dangerously live daytime program had been an unlikely hit when Walters inaugurated it in September 1997 over the qualms of then-ABC News President Roone Arledge, who worried that it would be frivolous, spread her too thin, and tarnish her brand.
“Roone didn’t want Barbara to do it—he thought it was too silly for her,” Behar recalled. “But, let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Barbara we wouldn’t be here. The show never had a shot in the beginning. The O&O’s [ABC’s owned and operated stations] weren’t picking us up right away, and she went around door to door and said, ‘Come on!’ ”
A few of the late Arledge’s concerns were legitimate; there was, for example, Walters’s cringe-worthy Marilyn Monroe impersonation for a Halloween episode years ago, and the notorious Campbell’s Soup flap of 2000 (in which Walters and the co-hosts kept raving about the canned food product without informing viewers they were doing a paid infomercial). But despite periodic predictions of its demise, The View has proved to be miraculously durable and, in recent months, sharply relevant.
“From the beginning I never expected the show to last this long,” Walters, who sold her 50 percent ownership stake to ABC but remains an executive producer, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “However, the combinations of different views and different women made it work then and now. Long live The View.”
Whoopi Goldberg, for one, credits the show’s current success to “the viewing audience” and “the stable table”—which, along with Behar, features attorney and ABC News legal correspondent Sunny Hostin, Good Morning America regular Sara Haines as the reliable liberals on the panel, and Fox News alum Jedediah Bila as the designated libertarian-conservative (albeit a social moderate who is pro-choice and supports LGBTQ rights). Weekend GMA anchor Paula Faris generally appears on Fridays, when Goldberg is usually off and Behar serves as moderator.
“The problem with the show is that it was a problem for other people. We were fine,” Goldberg said in written answers to questions. “We didn’t have backstage controversies until people started writing that they were there, and the only reason that they were writing that they were there is because apparently five women can’t have a conversation without being bitches.”
Insisting that “we didn’t have those fights”—whatever Behar’s apparently differing perception—Goldberg added: “The magic of the show is us having conversations, and we are still the only show that has these conversations the way we have them. It’s not scripted, and we say what we need to say.”
During a recent live broadcast, as witnessed from the mostly female studio audience of less than 100 fans in ABC’s Manhattan production center, longtime Oprah Winfrey veteran Candi Carter presided in the control room while her co-executive producer, David Letterman alum Brian Teta, coordinated activities on the set.
The 61-year-old Goldberg’s earthy empathy and charisma (she’s won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony in a long showbiz career) made her first among equals.
On a commercial break, when fans get to pose questions to the hosts, a woman in the front row asked Goldberg—who was sadly marking the the two-year anniversary her older brother Clyde Johnson’s death, seven years after losing her mother Emma—how she copes with grief. The woman said she’d also suffered the recent loss of a loved one.
“You must keep going forward,” Goldberg advised. “But the thing that will kill you is stopping. It can be a loss. You cannot let it stop you. You must let it make you better. It’s not going to get easier to deal with by standing still.”
Clearly touched, Goldberg continued: “I’m literally on the back side of this. This is a tough time. So it’s all kind of hit me. In my mind, no one knows me anymore, because the two people who knew me the best are now gone. So I can’t remember shit. I used to call my brother and say, ‘Did this happen? Or did this just come out of my head?’ And he’d go, ‘Half of it is out of your head. Half of it did happen, half of it didn’t.’ And suddenly now I find myself going, who knows this?
“So I’m trying to hold on to that. But I thought for awhile I didn’t want to be bothered. But you can’t do it. Life’s too short and you’ve got to—I’m gonna be crude, because I’m a crude person—fuck it.”
Through it all, warmup comedian Tom Kelly traipsed through the crowd, attempting to amp the atmosphere to a level best described as ridiculously enthusiastic.
“What makes this show amazing is five days a week now, we are on live TV,” Kelly announced as he strolled between the seats on risers. “You watch other shows, they tape ahead of time and they edit out their mistakes. If you watch Dr. Oz, he kills three patients a week, ladies and gentlemen! Rachael Ray burns everything she cooks. What makes our show amazing is we got one shot to do it, and we do it right the first time.”
Behar, burlesquing the Trump health care legislation making its way through Congress, quipped in decidedly not-ready-for-daytime language: “Repeal and go fuck yourself.”
After the hour-long-show—during which the “Hot Topics” included fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s congressional testimony and the perils and joys of one-night stands, while the panel grilled a book-promoting guest, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice—Behar said she wished there had been more time to challenge Rice on some of her assertions.
For instance, she wanted to question the former secretary’s notion that Vladimir Putin’s beef against Hillary Clinton was personal dislike as opposed to a calculation that a President Clinton would have been less likely than Trump to lift economic sanctions against Russia for meddling in the presidential election.
“I’m a comedian, and the main purpose of comedians is to say the emperor has no clothes,” Behar said, lounging in her functional dressing room in gym clothes after returning her camera-ready outfit to wardrobe. “This show has served a purpose that has been true for 20 years. A lot of people who watch this show get their news from us. They may not have watched any of the Sally Yates testimony, but I watched the whole thing. I’m a political junkie. They hear from us what did we watch and what did we think about it—and that’s very important. It’s not earth-shattering, but I wouldn’t minimize our importance either.”