Currently in its 23rd season, The View certainly has its loyal viewers, but there's an entirely different level of awareness that only comes from hearing about it second-hand. Blog posts about some outrageous thing one of the co-hosts said, or an argument between two of them, or a change in the five-seat lineup of co-hosts (currently, the lineup sits at four, with Whoopi Goldberg as moderator, joined by Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin, and Meghan McCain; Ana Navarro takes the fifth chair once a week). For the majority of us, The View is a show we hear much more about than we actually see.
There was a time when my job required me to watch The View every day. This was during the 2008 election and through Barack Obama's first term and the 2012 election; a time when The View prided itself on having pivoted into a show at the center of America's political conversation. That lineup of hosts — Whoopi, Joy, Sherri Shepherd, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and of course show creator Barbara Walters — represented the longest unchanged lineup in the show's history; in many ways, this was the show at its peak. Starting in 2013, that lineup began to disband, starting with Hasselbeck bolting for Fox News, followed by Walters' retirement. The show has never been quite the same after that. The flurry of host changes that followed left The View without as strong a sense of identity, and only recently with McCain's oft-perturbed presence on the panel has the show resumed making headlines.
My curiosity about where the show stands now building, I set out to watch a week's worth of The View, from Monday, February 24 through Friday, February 28. It was an incredibly average week of television, which suited my experiment just fine. This was also a week where the co-hosts were surprisingly non-combative and usually in agreement — more on that below — with no verbal smackdowns, no walkouts, no tabloid fodder at all. And still, what I learned from a week in the trenches with The View gave me a snapshot of a show still willing to mix it up politically, even if it did feel a lot more like having a political discussion with my parents than I'd remembered.
Here were my major takeaways from the week:
One of the reliable expectations of The View is that you're going to experience a right vs. left political discussion. Up until a few weeks ago, the right flank belonged to Meghan McCain, the center-right flank belonged to Abby Huntsman, and the left flank was Behar, Hostin, and Goldberg. Huntsman left the show to work on her father's gubernatorial campaign in Utah, so now it's just McCain versus the field. Which could've been very volatile this week, except … they all seem to agree that they dislike Bernie Sanders. With his decisive win in the Nevada primary on February 22, the Vermont senator spent the week at the front of the race for the Democratic nomination, and while McCain opposes him for obvious reasons, I was surprised at the energetic opposition to Bernie expressed by the other three women, who all seem deeply convinced that only a moderate Democrat like Joe Biden or even Mike Bloomberg can win. Behar in particular was eager to jump on Sanders' comments praising an education initiative of Fidel Castro's, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren's aggressive takedown of Bloomberg in the Nevada debate.
Strangely enough, McCain was the only one to voice the possibility that Sanders, with his grassroots support and anti-establishment rhetoric, could be tougher for Trump to defeat than people (Trump included) realize. McCain is an occasionally interesting personality, whose tone (more below) and aura of personal grudge-settling often overshadow anything pertinent that can be gleaned from someone whose feet are firmly planted in conservative ideology but lives in liberal social circles. (More often than not, it adds up to McCain ranting about "liberals" when I suspect she means "people who talk down to me at parties.")
The Bernie thing is frustrating, however. With three liberal panelists, it wouldn't seem like too much to hope for some kind of ideological diversity when it comes to the primary candidates. That Behar, Hostin, and Goldberg all seemed so stubbornly opposed to the week's Democratic frontrunner gave The View an air of crankiness and a blinkered perspective on a youth-led political movement. Behar herself acknowledged Bernie's youth appeal but then proceded to brush away major Sanders platforms like climate change, student loan elimination, and women's reproductive rights as "youth issues" that older people need not care about.
If Bernie Sanders was the top story at the week's start, by the end it was almost certainly the coronavirus. And even if a lot of the coverage of the latter amounted to "we don't know much yet" and "we shouldn't panic, but," there was at least good engagement from the hosts on the issue. On Friday's episode, Hostin's chair was filled by Dr. Jennifer Ashton, one of ABC's go-to medical experts. It was comforting to have a medical professional lay out the ins and outs of the virus, what's bad about it, what's worth calming down about, what actions will actually help (wash your hands!) and what won't (face masks do nothing!).
The engagement of the hosts on the week's major topics stood in marked contrast to any time the show tried to pivot to a lighter subject. One of the Love Is Blind contestants engages in baby talk. Do older married couples get sick of each other? Should you compliment someone who's lost weight? There was an almost aggressive disinterest in these topics among the current co-hosts, with Whoopi broaching the subjects as if holding a loaded diaper at arm's length. Once in a while the hosts will warm up to a subject (Whoopi and Joy going in on the joys of post-menopausal sex), but more often than not, these are segments to be endured. It made me think of previous iterations of The View where these kinds of discussions were a part of the show's bedrock rather than occasional annoyances. The Meredith Viera/Barbara Walters era or even the Sherri Shepherd era would have made a lot of hay with such prompts. Maybe it's the current temperament of the hosts that's different, or maybe it's a sign of the times we live in.
There's a nagging voice in the back of my head that says to remember to give Meghan McCain a fair shake, regardless of her politics. But after five days (and five relatively mild days at that), I really have to wonder how anyone endures her full-time. It's less the substance of her opinions that chafes (though rounding out a Coronavirus segment by shouting out her doomsday-prepper friends for being on the right track is certainly a choice) than it is her method of delivery. McCain's points are almost always delivered with a pinched, petulant, defensive snottiness, no matter the severity of the issue. I singled out Tom Steyer because McCain mentioned on two separate days that she "hates" the billionaire Democrat for his refusal to end his campaign and make way for Biden (McCain got her wish Saturday evening, when Steyer ended his campaign). Of all the awful things in the world, Meghan McCain chooses to spend her hatred on Tom Steyer? The man wears tartan-print ties!
Of course, McCain keeps plenty of bile on reserve for various other subjects, including socialists, Joy Behar's dog (named "Bernie"), Lady Gaga's boyfriend's ex, and most frequently liberals, with whom she appears to be constantly conducting an argument in her head, whether her co-hosts play ball or not. One illuminating moment was when she remarked (admittedly with her tongue partially in cheek) to Shark Tank stars Kevin O'Leary and Mark Cuban that she still holds a grudge against Barbara Corcoran for saying that the children of rich and famous people will never be successful. How much of a joke she was making is up for debate, but that perspective seems to be the perch from which her resentments rise. It is a singularly unpleasant experience watching her operate on a daily basis.
For better or for worse, cross-talking on The View has been a feature of the show since the beginning. Giving a group of opinionated co-hosts a provocative topic with only so much air time to go around basically ensures it will happen. But too often, the upshot of all the cross-talk is that by the time someone — anyone, including McCain — is able to finally make a decipherable salient point, time's up and it's time for Whoopi to throw to commercial.
This isn't a commentary on the actual age of the co-hosts. (After all, Barbara Walters was nearly 70 when she began the show, and she stayed on it through its heyday for over 15 years.) Between the panel's aforementioned crankiness, and their slow grasp of changing times, the show's current co-hosts feel painfully ill-equipped to cogently discuss current events, whether it be Bernie Sanders or the #MeToo movement. (The Harvey Weinstein verdict was delivered in the middle of Monday's episode, with accuser Mimi Haley and her attorney Gloria Allred on the show the next day. What resulted was a stilted conversation that showed all the co-hosts struggling to find sensitive ways to discuss the trial.) During the Obama era, the show's political discussions felt fiery and urgent. This week's debates felt exhausted. Again, maybe that's just indicative of how we all feel right now. But after watching The View for a week, I mostly walked away thinking the co-hosts could use a long vacation.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.