This story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Earlier this TV season, ABC's The View commissioned a study that showed many viewers are turned off by the political debates that have defined the morning talk show: Elisabeth Hasselbeck's frequent dust-ups with erstwhile co-host Rosie O'Donnell; the co-hosts' tough interview with then-GOP presidential challenger John McCain; the feud between Donald Trump and co-hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg. Longtime panelists Behar and Hasselbeck on the left and right, respectively, were deemed too "polarizing," according to several sources. "They're out of sync with the audience," notes one source.
It's unclear when the co-hosts were made aware of the research, but on March 7, Behar, 70, announced that she will exit View after 16-plus years at the end of her contract this summer. And though co-executive producer and co-host Barbara Walters on March 11 denied that Hasselbeck, 35, will follow Behar out the door ("There are no plans for Elisabeth to leave this show," said Walters), observers reading between the lines contend her words were not unequivocal and that Hasselbeck indeed is plotting an exit.
To be sure, View still is among the top-rated daytime talkers, averaging 3.3 million viewers season-to-date, behind leader Dr. Phil (4 million viewers) and Live! With Kelly and Michael and The Ellen DeGeneres Show (each pulling in 3.4 million viewers). But View this season has declined 11 percent in total viewers and 19 percent among the key women 25-to-54 demographic (down to a 1.3 rating average), upon which much of daytime television is sold. Since its debut in 1997, CBS has launched The Talk, and NBC now competes with a fourth hour of Today with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford in many markets. Talk and Today rarely get as political as View does.
In defending Hasselbeck, Walters took issue with reports that attributed her "alleged" departure to "conservative views" and stressed that Hasselbeck's conservatism gives the show "perspective and balance." In fact, sources tell THR that ABC-Disney executives would like to find another conservative for the show as well as a woman who appeals to the burgeoning Hispanic demographic. Branding expert Linda Ong, founder and president of Truth Co., who has consulted with Univision and Disney on cultural analysis, notes that bicultural Latinos appeal across demographics, not only to the sliver of the Hispanic audience that watches daytime TV. "Latinos are at the forefront of leadership and pop culture today," says Ong. "The things they are doing are interesting to all of us."
There also is awareness among executives at The View that any transition must be handled respectfully to avoid damaging the franchise. "They don't want an Ann Curry moment," says an industry source. Walters could have been signaling as much when she noted March 11 that she and co-executive producer Bill Geddie "have always said that when one of you makes the choice to leave, that's your choice, and we will support your decision."