I’m not a View kinda guy; don’t watch daytime TV — no soap operas or Live With Regis and Kelly. I decline the Today show and Good Morning America. I think of the thing that CBS airs at 7 a.m. as The Show With the Lady Who Hosts ‘Big Brother’ Against Her Will. Yet I have been spending recent months watching The View — not just in real time, but DVR-ing the first half hour, which View mavens know contains the ”Hot Topic” segments. Why have I become hooked on a show built around a veteran TV news ”reporter” who helped turn hard news soft, a Survivor loser, a doughty stand-up comic, and Rosie O’Donnell?
Easy: It’s because The View is one of the most electrifying shows on the air. And I don’t care if you scoff, because it means you scoff ignorantly. The electrification began when that nice Meredith Vieira went to the Today show to sooth that nice Matt Lauer after that scary Katie Couric had made him so nervous he, in a pre-Britney move, cut off most of his hair. (At least, that’s how it struck me — I only know what I read and hallucinate, kids.) As The View’s anchor, Vieira led the panel in and out of discussions. Replacing her with O’Donnell was like replacing Gerald Ford with Howard Dean: Suddenly, there was rabble-rousing and bellowing, but in a good way.
Because unlike 99.9 percent of everyone else on TV, Rosie actually says what she thinks. It took a while for this to sink in for her cohosts, who’d been schooled (ordered?) by View coinventor Barbara Walters to be mannerly, middle-of-the-road. So every time Rosie yapped about her happy union with partner Kelli, more blood drained from Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s terrified, I forget, do God and my conservative base like lesbians? face. You sensed Joy Behar saw O’Donnell as competition, but Behar adjusted magnificently when she realized, ”Hey, I can say whatever I want too!” So now she regularly chimes in with hilariously menopausal grumpiness about Gen-Y idiocies. When Walters recently remarked of Paris Hilton, ”She’s sweet when you talk to her,” Behar rolled her eyes and snapped, ”A lot of stupid people are.” Ah, bliss…
Rosie’s View snaps and crackles. I’ll go so far as to say that The View does for daytime what The Daily Show does for nighttime: It reflects the pent-up frustrations, pleasures, and hostilities its audience has toward pop and political culture. Media pundits have long wheezed that middle America is cautious, and weary of strong opinions — any day of The View proves that’s hoo-ha.
The show also mades news — not just the Donald Trump squabble, which exposed him as a clumsy creep, but also for O’Donnell’s comments about Anna Nicole Smith days before she died. (Saying Smith’s slurry TV persona was ”a tragedy all around” didn’t merit a post-death apology, and thank goodness Rosie didn’t offer one.) O’Donnell pulls off the paradox of blatant subtlety: She’s not snooty about plugging the products the show sponsors; this, in turn, helps her promote her own interests. Her theater-queeniness, for example, benefits terrific performers such as Christine Ebersole and Kristin Chenoweth, who’ve been invited on the panel because Rosie loves their Broadway shows. They’d never get such well-deserved network exposure without her.
Once a mighty force bestrode The View — Star Jones Reynolds, the fascinatingly self-absorbed, freebie-loving gastric-bypass-nondenial denier. Now others try out for her spot in the rotation so Walters can repair to a Manhattan penthouse for calming, silk-sheeted lie-downs. The producers seem determined to find a black cohost: Their most frequent candidate is Sherri Shepherd, whose former sitcom Less Than Perfect also describes her flaw — she takes cues from whichever way the panel blows. My favorite has been Lola Ogunnaike, a New York Times reporter whose sole Oct. 16 appearance suggested tart quick-wittedness; the Times has since apparently tied her to the newsroom. Free Lola Ogunnaike!
Rumors swirl that Rosie will leave — ratings for The View, now in its 10th season, have soared, coinciding with her arrival. I hope O’Donnell stays. The View needs her. This was driven home on a recent Rosie-less edition, when talk turned to censoring children’s books. Hasselbeck cheerfully admitted that when she read Babar to her daughter Grace she tore out the page where the hunter kills Babar’s elephant mother. What is worse for a child: learning about death in the context of classic kid lit, or having a page torn from a book by your mother? (Poor Gracie — she’s in for an adolescence of banned books and crushed iPods.)
But Rosie (surely she’d have defended Babar!) also needs The View. She needs these gals to work off of, to challenge her and debate everything from Iraq to Britney. Because these days, no matter how gloomy the news, The View is cloudlless.