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After more than half a century in broadcast journalism and nearly 40 years at ABC News, Barbara Walters officially is ready to retire. Walters will make the announcement on Monday’s edition of The View – the ABC daytime program she co-created and has hosted since 1997.
Walters, who will turn 84 in September, intends to remain on The View through next season and will step down after the season wraps in summer 2014. She’ll continue to be a co-executive producer of the show and will be involved in selecting new co-hosts to replace Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Behar announced in March that she’ll depart after the current season. Hasselbeck has yet to confirm that she’s leaving the show.
Rumors of Walters’ retirement first surfaced in late March in the wake of a health scare and hospital stay. (Walters fell and bumped her head at the British Ambassador’s residence days before the presidential inauguration; doctors eventually diagnosed her with chicken pox.) But the notoriously tenacious TV personality was brushing off rumors of her retirement as recently as several weeks ago.
“There were many reports last week saying that I was retiring from ABC, and there was an assumption that I would be making an announcement today,” she said April 1 on The View. “Here I am, and I have no announcement to make. But I do want to say this: that if and when I might have an announcement to make, I will do it in this program, I promise, and the paparazzi guys, you will be the last to know.”
That announcement will cap an extraordinary career that began in 1961 when Walters was hired as a researcher for NBC’s Today and spanned the feminist movement and the entrée of women into the old boys club of TV news. From researcher, Walters was promoted to “Today Girl,” where she was relegated to lighter assignments. But she chafed at being reduced to one of the show’s “tea pourers,” as she characterized it in her 2008 memoir Audition. And after less than a year she became a reporter-at-large, writing and reporting her own stories.
She was the first woman to host an evening newscast when she was paired with Harry Reasoner on the ABC Evening News in 1976. It was an unhappy assignment for Walters.
“The blood was so bad between us … that Harry’s cronies on the crew took to using a stopwatch to note my airtime,” Walters wrote in Audition. “If I did a segment that ran three minutes and 25 seconds, Harry would demand that he do a piece three minutes and 25 seconds long. Harry’s hostility soon began to show on the air. I remember reaching toward him at the end of one broadcast, in a friendly manner, just to touch him on the arm. He recoiled, physically recoiled, in front of millions of people.”
But Walters weathered it and went on to land dozens of important interviews indicative of her extraordinary longevity and range: Anwar Al Sadat and Menachem Begin together; the Shah of Iran; Boris Yeltsin; Vladimir Putin; China’s Jian Zemin; Margaret Thatcher; Fidel Castro; Indiria Ghandi, Hugo Chavez; Michael Jackson; and Monica Lewinsky, to name but a few.
The run-up to her retirement will include retrospectives of her many Oscar and Ten Most Fascinating People specials as well as a multi-part career retrospective to air on ABC.
In a statement released by ABC News on Sunday night Walters said: “I am very happy with my decision and look forward to a wonderful and special year ahead both on The View and with ABC News. I created The View and am delighted it will last beyond my leaving it.”
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