Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck spent one hour palling around and smiling with each other on Thursday morning’s co-host reunion episode of The View. If anyone ever doubted the power of Barbara Walters, there’s your proof.
The eleven former co-hosts of The View reunited with Walters, the woman who gave them the coffee cup they held during tenures of various lengths on the morning talk show, for the icon's penultimate episode. It’s hard to believe that so many women sat at that table at various points in The View’s 17-season run, but there they were: Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Debbie Matenopoulos, Joy Behar, Lisa Ling, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Rosie O’Donnell, Sherri Shepherd, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jenny McCarthy, seated in a horseshoe, gazing up lovingly at Walters in the center.
Journalism’s Jesus at The Last Supper. Errr, Last Breakfast.
Before the parade of co-hosts were introduced, a clip of the original title sequence for The View played, with Walters narrating, “I've always wanted to do a show with women of different generations, backgrounds and views…This is that show.”
Gazing at the panel of women she had assembled over the years gathered together for the first time, it was astonishing how well Walters has, for 17 years, absolutely nailed that mission. The eleven women seated at the table represented different races, ages, political perspectives, sexual orientations, shapes, and sizes, and, most importantly, viewpoints. But as much as The View trailblazed that kind of diversity in daytime, it’s real legacy is the way it fostered and encouraged that diverse group of women to be unabashedly vocal about their equally diverse points of view.
That has, over the years, led to thoughtful conversation, needless squabbling, wars of words, provocative posturing, imbecilic analysis, camaraderie, contention, and everything in between. Memories of all those different instances—the epic Rosie/Elisabeth arguments, the Star Jones shameless self-promotion, the Sherri Shepherd’s "world is flat” moment, Lisa Ling’s astute warmth, Meredith Vieira’s zanier warmth—are what made Thursday morning’s reunion such a tantalizing prospect. What versions of all that insanity would poke through the din of conversation between these formidable eleven women? It was an event.
But hopes of a juicy hour were dashed by the reality, which we all should have expected, of eleven women on their best behavior happily paying homage to the women they owe at least some part of their career to. Most of the episode was like the montage that plays before the ending credits of a movie, where title cards pop up informing you where each of the characters are now, as Walters went around the table asking for updates on each of the women’s lives and careers. The rest of it was a mini-version of “This Is Your Life, Barbara Walters,” with each divulging their favorite moment of being on the show with Walters.
In other words, it was hardly a scandalous hour of TV, and at times maybe even a little bit boring. But it did have entertainment value as the event television that it was—Rosie and Elisabeth sat next to each other, guys—and the small flares of the fiery personalities of the women assembled that managed to shoot out during the small amount of camera time each was given. Plus, and this cannot be undersold, Barbara Walters was so clearly loving every single second of it, which was just adorable to watch.
For a brief, exciting second, though, the episode looked like it was going to be utter chaos, but in the way we all were kind of wanting it to be.
Whether or not it’s entirely fair or maybe even a little bit misogynistic, people who like to skewer The View have always reduced it to a cacophony of squawking hens clucking over each other to get a word in edgewise. When this massive eleven-host reunion was announced, fans and critics of The View alike fantasized and feared the clustercluck that would entail. And for a good 30 seconds right after they all sat down everyone was talking simultaneously and it was impossible to hear anything. Plus, the table was so big they had to shout at each other. Well, shout at each other more than usual.
Then structure—thankfully or annoyingly, depending on your point of view (hehe)—took over, as the lengthy where are they now segment commenced. (It was both cute and a little silly that Barbara needed to keep referring to cue cards in order to keep straight the names of each women’s significant others and children that she asked about it.)
The endeavor, though a bit snooze-inducing, was dripping with nostalgia, as each woman had a chance to showcase a little bit of the personality that made us love, or sometimes loathe, them in the first place. Meredith Vieira talked about her kids, as she always did. Lisa Ling talked about how Barbara helped convince her to pay attention to her personal life and now she’s happily married. Joy told a story about her grandson seeing her vagina. Naturally.
“I have to tell you Elisabeth stays in touch with me,” Walters said, clutching Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s hand like a grandmother shaming her other grandchildren for forgetting to write. And then Walters messed up the name of Hasselbeck’s child. Whoops.
Expectedly, Rosie O’Donnell was a spitfire, effortlessly reminding us why her un-self-conscious brand of brazen wit, easy relatability, and obvious intelligence made her the show’s best co-host. When discussing her recent marriage, she said, “My first marriage was annulled by the state of California, which was annoying at the time, but came in very handy when I wanted to get divorced.” Talking about her weight loss, she zinged, “I just walk into Lane Bryant at the mall just to hear them say, ‘There's nothing here that fits you.’”
(In an incredibly obtuse bit of scripting, Jenny McCarthy announced, “This is obviously a historic moment…” immediately after, which was supposed to introduce the next segment but sounded painful as it was.)
The “favorite moments” section was cute, if not all that revelatory. Meredith always enjoyed the Halloween episodes, because they allowed us to see another side of Barbara. In particular, it allowed us to see Barbara Walters dressed as Marilyn Monroe and attempting to sing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” like her, a clip that was shown again Thursday morning and is really must-see viewing for every human on earth.
Asked what her favorite memory was, O’Donnell quipped, “Fighting with the skinny one right here,” cannily addressing the elephant—well, more like blonde flamingo—in the room. It was probably the best moment of the episode. And, it must be said, hardly contentious at all. Hasselbeck, gamely laughed and patted Rosie’s arm.
But if Rosie O’Donnell was expectedly the standout alumnus at the reunion, Debbie Matenopoulos was the surprising runner up. Matenopoulos, it’s legend at this point, hosted The View for just two seasons, let go after the media relentlessly parodied her as an uninformed ditz. What a difference 15 years makes, however, because Matenopoulos was the only woman who managed to make any emotion seem genuine and was probably the most magnetic presence on screen Thursday. She recounted the story of how she was originally hired by Walters, a 22-year-old with no TV experience beating out a room full of seasoned TV vets for the gig. By the end of the story, an homage to the courage of Walters’s convictions, she had tears in her eyes. And we kind of did, too.
Like any episode of The View, there was the moment where you look away for 10 or 15 seconds and when you glance back something utterly bizarre is happening on screen and you think, “What in the living hell…?” That happened Thursday when some students at Sarah Lawrence College, Walters’ alma mater, stopped by to sing a song about her dorm. Called Titsworth.
But in all, the episode was a staid version of what we all, really, expected, even if we were hoping for something a bit more incendiary: a sort of self-congratulatory walk down memory lane with women we’ve missed, maybe forgot about, and were, for better or worse, a part of TV history.
“The View has shown that women can be together and enjoy each other and have the kind of conversations you might have in the morning with a girlfriend,” Walters said at the top of episode. And it was nice to catch up with some of those girls.