In the months since her retirement, Barbara Walters says she has watched The View “almost every day.” There have been times—and “I try not to,” she says—when she cannot stop herself and she calls the control room and gets the executive producer or the director on the line. “We are not Meet the Press,” she has decreed, when a segment has become too weedy or serious. “Or I’ll correct them if they get a fact wrong,” she says, recalling the morning she heard one of the panelists say “oil from Syria,” and grabbed the phone to alert the control room that Syria is not currently an oil exporter. She also e-mails her thoughts to the producers and executives who run the show these days—“the notes,” says one ABC insider, with the hint of an eye roll.
It was 1997 when ABC executives, needing to fill the 11 A.M. weekday time slot, asked Walters if she had any ideas. She did: a talk show featuring four or five women “of different backgrounds, different generations, and different opinions,” who would discuss the topics of the day, mixing humor with intelligent debate. It was a risky idea. Television talk shows featuring women who did not bake, let alone women who discussed important issues, had not met with much success.
The co-hosts would change. There have been a total of 13, including the journalist Meredith Vieira; the former prosecutor and television commentator Star Jones; the Survivor reality-television star and current Fox News personality Elisabeth Hasselbeck; and the former Playboy Playmate of the Year and anti-vaccination activist Jenny McCarthy. Over all of them, Walters presided regally.
At 85, Walters will not be doing her annual 10 Most Fascinating People special this year, but she is still working, on her new show, American Scandal with Barbara Walters, which will feature updates to her most controversial interviews, along with outtakes, in addition to appearing as a guest co-host on The View—which gets a lot of her attention. “And they say, I’m sure: ‘Oh God, there she is again,’” she says, half joking about the reaction at ABC to her suggestions. It is said in a lighthearted way, but a friend says Walters was “very frustrated” when major changes were made to the show during the past year without consulting her. It has been hard for Walters to witness what has been happening to The View, says this friend. “This is a big part of her legacy,” this person says. “It’s her baby.”