There aren’t many soap operas left on daytime TV these days, but that doesn’t mean it lacks drama. The early-morning blood feud between NBC’s crumbling Today and ABC’s ascendant Good Morning America has provided media writers with an epic and continuing narrative for years, rivaling the Great Late Night Troubles of the nineties and the Lesser Late Night Troubles of the 2010s. Over in the kingdom of syndicated talk shows, would-be successors to the throne abdicated by Oprah Winfrey two years ago keep popping up (like Meredith Vieira, who announced this week that she’ll seek to conquer the format in fall 2014) and flaming out (Jeff Probst, Ricki Lake, and Anderson Cooper). And then there’s The View, which continues to do a good job fulfilling ABC’s on-air drama requirement in the wake of soaps All My Children and One Life to Live. Today, longtime co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck made her final appearance on the show, barely 24 hours after Fox News Channel announced that the former Survivor contestant would be joining its morning chatfest Fox and Friends. Her departure follows the previously announced exits of the show’s last two original co-hosts, Joy Behar and series creator/executive producer Barbara Walters, whose departures had kicked up a dust storm of rumors about who might replace them (Jenny McCarthy is said to be “in talks” to replace Behar, according to Us Weekly). Since both The View and Fox and Friends are fond of reducing complex and nuanced issues to black and white, and because there’s no guarantee Lifetime will ever green-light Survivor: The Elisabeth Hasselbeck Story, it makes sense to process what’s happened this week in the simplest way possible: a list of winners and losers!
At first glance, it might seem like Hasselbeck is taking a big step down by exiting a solidly rated and now-iconic network TV institution for a niche cable show. After all, while ratings for The View are declining along with just about everything else in daytime, The View remains a pretty potent platform: Presidential candidates make sure to stop by, it’s a required stop on most celebrity media tours, and the show still regularly makes headlines. But Hasselbeck’s role on The View was never a starring one, and her far-right opinions primarily functioned as teeing-off points for her much funnier colleagues. At Fox, though, Hasselbeck will get to be the top banana, with co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade likely to serve as an amen corner for whatever attacks she launches at President Obama or Nancy Pelosi. What’s more, being front and center on one of Fox News’ signature shows can only make Hasselbeck more of a draw on the incredibly lucrative conservative pundit circuit and open up all sorts of new ways for her to profit from her political philosophy. Consider: The only books Hasselbeck has published during her tenure on The View have been about her love of gluten-free dining. It seems almost a given that, now that’s she has been freed from the confines of broadcast TV, Hasselbeck will pen a Sarah Palin–esque call to arms for conservative moms. Television is all about niche marketing these days, and by moving to Fox News, Hasselbeck should be able to prosper more than she ever did on ABC.
There’s not much that’s distinctive or interesting about CBS’s very blatant rip-off of The View, but the show has survived for three years and its ratings have trended upward since its modest launch. Hasselbeck’s departure by itself is not a big win for The Talk, but when combined with the coming exits of Walters and Behar, the turmoil on the ABC show presents the rival upstart with a big opening. By this time next year, The Talk’s hosts will be more established than most of those on The View (where Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd will be the only cast members with more than a year of service). This could cause some longtime View-ers to check out other shows, giving The Talk a chance to snag some newbies. To maximize this opportunity, however, CBS might want to consider making some changes to The Talk, too — namely, moving the show to New York and airing it live rather than pre-taped. While The Talk has gotten better over the years, the show lacks the spontaneity and spark that come from a live broadcast.
There’s a very big asterisk attached to Couric’s inclusion on this list of winners. Right now, Couric probably belongs on the loser list: Her self-titled daytime talk show has produced meh ratings in its first season, and the odds of it surviving past next season seem slim. But with all the drama surrounding The View this week, and with Walters set to exit the show next spring, it got us to thinking that maybe ABC — which has a giant deal with Couric and produces her talk show — already has a backup plan for the former Today superstar. As in, what if Couric is actually in line to replace Walters as the new grand dame on The View? Nobody would ever admit such a thing right now, because for now Couric’s talk show is technically still very viable. But come December, if Katie is still struggling, it might make sense for her and ABC to decide to pull the plug and mask the failure by announcing Couric as Walters’s replacement in the fall of 2014. We have absolutely no intel suggesting this has even been discussed, but from a distance it seems like a plausible idea — and one that could only help both The View and Couric.
Saturday Night Live
One of the show’s best recurring bits of recent years has been its spot-on spoof of Fox and Friends, and now it has a whole new reason for being. Gretchen Carlson’s departure might be bad news for her SNL alter ego, Vanessa Bayer, but inserting a fake Hasselbeck into the sketches would almost certainly make them funnier. Plus, the drama on The View means SNL has a good reason to bring back its parodies of the ABC show.
She’s a legend and an icon, but the whole mess with Hasselbeck has not been Ms. Walters’s finest hour. That’s because four months ago, when Us first reported that Hasselbeck was departing, Walters decided to go on the air and strongly shoot down the report. “There is a particularly false story that keeps getting picked up about Elisabeth’s alleged departure, saying we don’t approve of her conservative views,” Walters insisted in March, according to Deadline, which also quoted Walters as saying, “We have no plans for Elisabeth to leave this show.” Now, Walters did use the PR trick of saying “no plans,” which is often code for “it’s going to happen, but we don’t want to tell you right now.” But Walters is not a publicist. She’s a journalist. It’s totally understandable if she doesn’t want to confirm rumors about her employees on the show (she co-owns The View), but Walters, who has nothing to prove to anybody, should be above parsing words. In the end, of course, the last few months will be barely a sentence in Walters’s long career, if that.
The longtime Fox and Friends co-host is being bumped from the show even though its ratings are doing fine. Sure, she’s getting her own daytime hour on Fox News. NBC News gave Ann Curry her own reporting unit and the promise of prime-time specials; it didn’t change the fact that she was unceremoniously dumped. That’s what’s happened to Carlson. Give credit to Roger Ailes, though: Unlike NBC, which humiliated Curry for months and months, Fox News ripped off the bandage quickly and (almost) painlessly.
Why can’t the Alphabet network handle daytime transitions with class? Even if their demises were inevitable (and that’s open to debate), the way the network canceled One Life to Live and All My Children left die-hard fans furious at its treatment of two daytime institutions. And now it seems intent on completely blowing up The View, a franchise that, despite ratings declines, is working. Walters’s exit was unavoidable, given her age. But having Behar and Hasselbeck take their leaves within the same year makes no sense, unless ABC is simply trying to cut costs on the show by replacing the two women with less expensive co-hosts. And if that is the reason, it seems penny wise and pound foolish: Daytime is dying, and the shows doing best right now are the ones that have been on the longest and boast personalities viewers love and know. This year next time, most of the people on The View will be new to the show; as noted above, it’s basically an invitation for regular viewers to start seeing other talk shows. There’s nothing wrong with trying to freshen up The View with new faces, but a total makeover in such a short amount of time seems quite risky. And if the latest rumors pan out, some of those new faces could hurt The View more than they help. McCarthy, for one, doesn’t have much of a fan base these days (even if some of us will always love her from Singled Out); what’s more, she comes with a built-in sliver of the population who are very concerned about her opinions on public health issues, including her stance against some vaccines. Maybe ABC is being brilliant about basically rebooting The View, cycling in fresh new faces so that the show doesn’t get even older than it already is. It sure doesn’t seem that way.