Not many television shows continue to be must see television like The View continues to be. From its early versions with Star Jones and Meredith Viera to the polariizingly popular Rosie O’Donnell years, to the current and extremely political iteration, the one thing that The View never ever is, is dull. Writer Ramin Setoodeh saw the fascination and foothold that the show had on the public, and dove into the history, backstory, and sometimes complicated interpersonal relationships feet first. Sitting down with a large number of the co-hosts on the record, Setoodeh received access that no other writer had ever received on this historically private show. Cracking open The Ladies Who Punch reads like a modern day King Lear, with behind the scenes battles for control and shocking casting decisions sprinkled throughout.
I sat down with Setoodeh to talk about what led him to see a legendary show like The View as a complete book, why the public has such an endless fascination with the program, and how he just may see this glass ceiling shattering bit of daytime history end its run.
Michael Cook: Your book has created quite a bit of stir, with Rosie O’Donnell stating publicly that she was not happy that she spoke on the record with you for the book.
Ramin Setoodeh: I think that this book is a celebration of The View and a celebration of all of the co-hosts. My goal in writing the book was to tell the honest story of what happened on the show. My hope would be that Rosie reads the book; I don’t think that she has, I think she’s just looked at the headlines. I think that it is a truthful exploration of what happened when she was on the show.
MC: Let’s take it back; what made you want to dive into the show this deeply and write an entire book on The View?
RS: I have been an entertainment journalist for fifteen years, I was at Newsweek for nine years and I have been at Variety for six years. The one topic that I have written about that always consistently gets the most attention in terms of traffic is stories about The View. There is just an intense interest in what happens on that show and what’s happening behind the scenes on that show. I sort of started to see it as a book when Barbara Walters retired in 2014 and Rosie O’Donnell went back to the show and she and Whoopi were both figuring out who would inherit the show. It sort of had a Shakespearean trajectory, almost like a King Lear story where the daughters were trying to figure out who was going to inherit The View and the queen, Barbara Walters, had retired. I started thinking about it as a book and I was thinking that if I could get enough co-hosts to talk to me on the record, it could definitely be a book.
MC: The return of Rosie O’’Donnell in 2014 was much heralded, but for some reason, working with fellow legend Whoopi Goldberg simply did not work. What do you think the reason for that is?
RS: The reason that it did not work was that Rosie was trying to be not only a co-host, but also the Executive Producer of the show, as she had been on her own talk show. Rosie was trying to give Whoopi direction and Whoopi was not taking directions from Rosie. I think that there was a real power struggle for control of the show. As a result of that power struggle, it ended up stifling them on air. They were having these very stilted and uncomfortable conversations on-air and it made viewers turn off the show.
For example, Rosie told me that Whoopi did not want to have discussions about Bill Cosby because Bill Cosby was a friend of Whoopi’s and Rosie really wanted to have discussions about what was happening. For both of them, it was beyond that; it’s just they just had had very different ways of approaching the show. Rosie really wanted to dramatically re-invent the show when she came in the second time, and Whoopi felt that the show was on the right track and she saw no reason to change everything.
MC: You have spoken to Barbara Walters numerous times and developed a relationship with her. Were you surprised that she was this forthcoming about a show that she created and has fostered for so many years?
RS: I wasn’t surprised because Barbara Walters is such a groundbreaking and glass ceiling shattering journalist. I think she values the truth and Barbara herself is an honest subject. When you ask Barbara a difficult question, I think she respects that because she spends too much of her own career doing that.
MC: From talking to Barbara personally as well as talking to so many of the other co-hosts, do you think that they have absorbed how they have changed the entire landscape of television? From shows that have a similar format like The Talk and The Real to daytime morning television shows like Good Morning America, The View seems to have single handedly changed how talk shows are presented entirely.
RS: I think that is one hundred percent right. I think that is one of the arguments in the prologue in the book where I sketch out, especially in the prologue, how The View has essentially changed television as we know it. I think Barbara is aware of that. When I asked her about it, she told me that “this wasn’t just a new show, we created a new format”. The idea that there would be a number of people at the same people expressing their opinions about the news had been around, but something that The View really popularized. They created all of these copycats and was ahead of it’s time in doing it before anyone else really was doing it in daytime.
Also, it’s really revolutionary to think that in 1997, Barbara Walters could sit at a table alongside four women who are expressing their opinions. This was also was something that was not happening at all. Journalists were not allowed to express their opinions in the 90’s or before that for that matter. She also paved the way for people like Anderson Cooper to be a talk show host, and Katie Couric doing a talk show, and that entire realm we are in right now where journalists are also very comfortable in expressing their opinions and taking on Twitter and posting on Instagram. Barbara Walters opened the window into personal lives of journalists and there were all of these other journalists that followed her.
MC: The book leaves almost no stone unturned in terms of the show and it’s co-hosts, but the entire era or Candace Cameron Bure/Raven Symone/Jedediah Bila/Michelle Collins was something that we did not get to see too much of in The Ladies Who Punch. Is there more story to tell on that era perhaps?
RS: I completely agree, When I originally thought of this story, it really was a story about control of The View between Whoopi, Barbara and Rosie. I think when Whoopi inherited the show, that was always my end point. Everything else after that, I thought would be the epilogue. I think now that that there has been so much interest in those years of the show, I have been thinking about expanding that section in the paperback, which comes out in a year.
MC: There were rumors about Brooke Shields thinking about joining The View and Ali Wentworth coming very close to taking a seat at the table. Is there anyone that you think would have changed the whole dynamic of the show had they taken a seat the table?
RS:I think that if Barbara had selected Gayle King instead of Whoopi Goldberg, it would have dramatically changed the show. I think Barbara choosing Whoopi as the moderator was probably the biggest decision that she made during her entire time as Executive Producer of The View. Whoopi is so closely associated with The View right now, it would be a completely different show if Gayle had done it Also, I don’t think Gayle would be on CBS if she was the moderator of The View, as she would have continued to do it and been successful at it. It would have been a very different show.
MC: Meghan McCain is a lightning bolt for the controversy on The View, and is also a true conservative for this generation. How do you think the first true conservative since Elisabeth Hasselbeck is working out on the show with the other ladies?
RS: I think Meghan McCain’s presence on the show is important.The other Republicans that they brought on were not expressing Republican ideas on the show. You had Nicole Wallace who was agreeing with Whoopi, or you had Jedediah Bila who was agreeing with the panel, or you had Candace Cameron Bure who was conservative, but not political. I think having Meghan on the show, especially during the Trump administration, is a very important factor to why the show is succeeding right now.
MC: There have been rumblings for quite some time about Meghan McCain and Nicole Wallace not getting along (Wallace served a Senior Adviser for Meghan’s father, the late Senator John McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign). I am thinking that we would not be seeing them on the panel together any time soon?
RS: You know, I don’t think Nicole would go back to The View. She was very clear in my conversation with her. It was a one year thing that she did, and she is very happy at MSNBC. She looked at it as entertainment programming and she is a newsperson.
MC: One thing that The Ladies Who Punch does, is it peels back the window on some surprising casing decisions that The View almost made. For example, you reveal that Meredith Viera almost returned as moderator and Elisabeth Hasselbeck was asked to return before Abby Huntsman joined the panel. Why do you think the show is keen to give a second chance to women who after having a successful run on the show, are considering a return?
RS: I think some of the reason they are so open to letting some people back is because bringing Joy Behar back has been such a successful thing for the show. I also think that they made a huge mistake when they initially fired Joy; Joy even says that in the book. It was a different administration of executives at ABC, so there were different executives that made that decision. I think that the current administration realized that this was a mistake and they needed her back because Joy’s numbers were so high.
I think they were open to the idea of bringing Meredith Viera back because Meredith was always beloved at The View and it was her decision to leave to go do The Today Show. I think that if they were one day to get her back it would be a huge coup for the show. I think the idea of bringing Rosie back appealed to executives because she also was very successful on the show. Things ended badly, but having her at the show fundamentally changed The View. It made it a very political show, it made it a very relevant show, it made it a very watched show. I think she propelled the show into the current era that it has experienced and the prosperity that it has experienced for the last decade, because Rosie really was so passionate about politics and was not afraid to have broad honest discussions.
MC: So the question remains; do you think Rosie would ever go back for a third tenure on The View?
RS/ No, I don’t think Rosie would return for a third time. I think that the last time she was on was so difficult and trying experience, that she would not go back, nor would ABC want her to go back. It didn’t really work for either of them. One of the questions I get though, and I think many people are interested in, are about Rosie having another platform I think she is such a compelling host that there is always question and speculation about her going back in some other format.
MC: Is there anyone that you would actually absolutely love to see return to The View?
RS: I think Meredith coming back would be an absolute home run. I think Meredith is great on The View and people would be excited about that.
MC: There are so many people that have come onto the show and not gelled with the format or the other co-hosts. When high profile names like Rosie Perez just don’t make it, what do you think that can be attributed to?
RS: I think the co-hosts that don’t work are the ones that have trouble finding an authentic connection to the arguments. They have trouble finding a clear take on the stories to they never really develop a a personality on the show. Michelle Collins is a great example of this. I think ABC was hoping that she would be really funny and she ended up on the show stepping on Joy’s punch lines. It became very clear from the beginning that Michelle and Joy were not compatible at the same table; it was too duplicative.
MC: What do you make of the current roster of ladies at The View table? Do you think that the sometimes contentious interactions we are seeing on air continue off air?
RS: I think the original concept of the show and Barbara’s conception of the show was that they would have discussions and they would leave them at the table. Sometimes they would bleed over into the commercials and Barbara would always say “our goal is to not make it personal”. Like Thanksgiving dinner, when you are having really heated discussions about politics sometimes it does get a littler personal. The idea and the goal of the show has always been to leave it at the table and to be a group and a community of women who truly get along in real life.
MC: Who do you think would be an amazing co host on the show that has never been given a shot?
RS: I have always thought that Gabourey Sidibe would be amazing on The View. I have seen her a couple times on the show and I am always very intrigued and I think she’s great on the show. I think Laverne Cox would be an incredible co-host on The View. She has such a successful acting career, she is choosing that over doing The View. There was a period of time that she was on the show a lot and I always thought that she was fantastic on the show. I think that Monica Lewinsky would be an amazing co-host on The View. As I write in the book, Barbara was actually interested in her and thought about Monica auditioning. I think that one of the really impressive things about The View is that over the course of the twenty two years, the show really has continued to reinvent itself and it has had more hits than misses in terms of the co hosts and it has launched the careers of so many women in Hollywood. From Meredith Viera to Joy Behar to Star Jones, from Whoopi begin an EGOT and having this other act of her career with The View, and even Rosie O’ Donnell doing the show for a year and a half and being very popular on that show.
I think that one of the things about the show that is interesting is how it continues to turn it’s co-hosts into stars-huge stars. For example, Elisabeth Hasselbeck was one of the first reality stars in America who took their fame and extended it beyond the initial fifteen minutes of fame. In 2003, we were not accustomed to reality stars doing other things. There was no Kim Kardashian, there was no Paris Hilton. For Elisabeth to be on Survivor and then have a career after that in entertainment, was a big deal.
MC: Speaking of Elisabeth, were you disappointed in the comments she made publicly about what Rosie said about her in the book? To many, the book read as she simply was a mentor to Elizabeth in a multitude of ways.
RS: I think that is how I wrote it in the book also. I was confused by what Elisabeth said on The View about Rosie. She was using language that suggested that she was a victim and Rosie was simply saying that she had a non sexual crush on her. I thought the response was strange.
MC: How do you see The View ending?
RS: It’s funny because I don’t ever see it ending. Throughout the entire three years of working on the book I never saw a finite end. I think the fact that it has been going on for twenty two years really speaks to the strength and appeal of the brand. The fact that this book has become successful also speaks to how intensely popular this brand is. The fans of The View are intensely interested in the show. I think that if Joy and Whoopi decide to leave when their contract expires in 2020, that will be a big moment for the show. Who they get to fill those seats will be a defining moment for the show. They may not leave, maybe one of them will and one of them won’t. I think there are just so many variables. Barbara Walters never believed that show would outlast the exit of one of its co hosts .Here we are twenty two years later and it’s still going strong.
The Ladies Who Punch is available at bookstores now
(Cast Photos Courtesy of ABC; Author Photo Courtesy of MacMillan) Publishers/Matt Sayles)