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This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Welcome to the big job, Ben Sherwood. The new Disney-ABC Television Group president officially starts Feb. 1, and one of his first tough decisions is what to do with the flagging roundtable show The View. Sherwood’s issue reflects the changing daytime landscape and the effects of mixing volatile personalities for the sake of good TV.
A hastily executed reboot in the summer has failed to reverse the show’s ratings fortune: The View is flat year-over-year among total viewers and down 9 percent among its target audience of women 25-to-54. And CBS’ The Talk bested The View among total viewers for the first time during the week of Jan. 12, pulling in 2.95 million viewers compared with The View‘s 2.88 million. The shows have been running neck and neck among women 25-to-54 and 18-to-49. The drastic makeover, which left Whoopi Goldberg the sole returning co-host and reinstated Rosie O’Donnell, who left the program in 2007 (alongside new co-hosts Rosie Perez, 50, and Nicolle Wallace, 42), has set up a battle of alpha hosts and spurred a debate about the future of the franchise.
O’Donnell, 52, who has a reported one-year, $5 million deal, is said to be itching to once again become the A-host; she’s enthusiastic and comes to the set with ideas for segments and topics, say sources. But among her biggest supporters at ABC was outgoing top executive Anne Sweeney, while Sherwood, Sweeney’s successor, is said to be less keen on a return to the divisive political spats that defined O’Donnell’s tenure on The View. Meanwhile, Goldberg, 59, has another year left on her $5 million annual contract. O’Donnell and Goldberg are known to have a chilly relationship, and behind-the-scenes strife has become routine. One source notes that O’Donnell conspicuously was absent from Goldberg’s Christmas party at Goldberg’s New Jersey home in December.
Of course, The View hardly is the only daily TV franchise at a crossroads. NBC News on Jan. 16 hired Noah Oppenheim, a former morning TV producer turned screenwriter, to chart a course for Today after its last leader, Jamie Horowitz, was fired before he officially started. But The View — which last year was moved from daytime into the ABC News portfolio — is perceived as a particular trouble spot among ABC’s news and infotainment shows, which include first-place Good Morning America and World News Tonight.
ABC executives strenuously deny reports that The View is on the chopping block, insisting they are focused on improving the show and that they’re willing to give the new panel time to jell. Perez has been absent due to rehearsals for Larry David‘s Broadway show; she’ll return Feb. 3. And a back injury has sidelined Goldberg.
“Daytime has become almost impossible to launch a show, particularly in syndication,” notes Bill Carroll, vice president and director of content strategy at Katz Television Group. “The great thing about [The View] is you can tweak it.”
The View always has been a lean operation. And much of the senior staff whose salaries grew during the life of the show were weeded out last year when founding executive producer Barbara Walters left. That includes longtime executive producer Bill Geddie; he was replaced by Bill Wolff, who worked with Rachel Maddow at MSNBC.
But the show still is supporting two expensive deals — Goldberg’s and O’Donnell’s — which might be unsustainable. For the first three quarters of 2014, The View brought in $64 million compared with $90 million during the same period in 2013, according to Kantar Media, a drop of nearly 30 percent. Meanwhile, The Talk earned $57 million through September, essentially flat year-over-year. Sources at ABC dispute Kantar’s data and stress that The View is still profitable. ABC reportedly commissioned a market study, which, among other things, revealed that Goldberg is viewed more positively than O’Donnell. But there still is debate about whether The View should offer politics and current events or mine fluffier topics.
There has been speculation that the network could cancel The View and expand GMA (where Sherwood cut his teeth as executive producer) to fill the 11 a.m. slot. While ABC News president James Goldston would love to have the extra revenue of another hour of GMA, network sources deny that The View‘s fortunes are in any way tied to those of GMA. Moving Live With Kelly and Michael out of its 9 a.m. perch is unlikely. And a one-hour gap makes the GMA scenario logistically not ideal.
Ironically, the glut of shows and diminishing returns might save The View, an established (if weakened) franchise. Adds Carroll: “Every show goes through peaks and valleys, competition changes, the audience evolves. Any syndicator would be happy to take those numbers.”
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