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The View remains on hiatus until next Monday, July 12, but in the wake of Meghan McCain’s bombshell announcement that she’s leaving at the end of this season, I couldn’t resist diving back into the flaming trash heap that is daytime’s most-watched talk show. Anchors aweigh…
When Meghan McCain revealed that she’ll be leaving The View after nearly four years in the conservative hot seat, her announcement was met with cheers from the Twittersphere. “Ding dong the wicked witch is gone,” users proclaimed as they bid adieu to a co-host who has served as a flashpoint for both the left and the right throughout her tenure. To be sure, McCain derailed many conversations during her time on The View, and tensions have only increased since the show switched to an all-virtual model during the pandemic, but assuming that the network will simply slot in a more palatable host and move on is naive. ABC’s great Meghan McCain experiment is far from over — in fact, my prediction is that it's about to get even worse.
During McCain’s time at The View, the ABC talk show reached ratings-highs never before seen in its 24-season history. Part of that viewership increase can be attributed to The Trump Effect: with so much news coming out of the Trump White House every day, viewers turned to pundits for clarity. But while most mainstream cable news networks have watched ratings decrease since President Biden took office, The View has managed to hold on to, and even grow, its base. In late June, The View ranked No. 1 in households and amassed 2.8 million total viewers for the first time ever at this point in the season, and it’s currently up 2% compared to the same point last year. It’s no stretch to say that this surge is largely due to McCain, who has continued to make headlines even as Hot Topics have dragged under the Biden administration.
ABC’s executives are keenly aware of this fact: last week Page Six reported that the network “begged her to stay” and even offered McCain an ABC News contributor role, but she turned it down. Controversial as she may be, McCain is a huge profit-driver, even if — and likely because — her presence comes with a hefty side of Twitter dragging.
Quite simply, Meghan McCain made The View relevant again, and if ABC wants to continue making a midday splash, execs are going to have to take all of this into account. Now that the blonde genie is out of the bottle, it’s almost certain that whoever fills McCain’s seat will be even more extreme than the conservative firebrand.
The prognosticating that’s taken place over the past few days seems to, at the very least, tacitly acknowledge that McCain’s replacement will push The View further to the right. Names like S.E. Cupp — McCain’s friend, and the most moderate of the suggested picks — former co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Megyn Kelly, Kellyanne Conway, and Candace Owens have all been thrown out as potential options, though only Owens fits into McCain’s millennial demographic (let’s not forget that Barbara Walters conceived of The View as a multi-generational panel of women). Another option is self-proclaimed “left-leaning centrist” Bari Weiss, who I previously suggested should replace McCain on maternity leave last year.
With the exception of Cupp, who’s probably too polite to generate the ratings ABC wants, these options are… not great. The last time Elisabeth Hasselbeck was on The View she urged viewers to “pray” away COVID-19. Megyn Kelly is still persona non grata in mainstream news circles three years after she defended blackface on her short-lived NBC show (plus, she just signed a new deal with SiriusXM, so expect to not hear from her over there). Kellyanne Conway remains a full-on Trumper, which obviously wouldn’t work with the rest of the co-hosts, and has been accused of abusing her daughter, Claudia. Candace Owens spends her days sharing conspiracy theories and spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. And Bari Weiss seems entirely unlikely to submit to ABC’s fact checking process.
Say what you will about McCain, but because she’s socially liberal on issues like LGBTQ+ rights and is willing to ding her own party, she was able to form somewhat of a bond (however tenuous) with her co-hosts. Plus, she has enough knowledge about other topics — things like The Real Housewives and body positivity and sex after baby — that she helped fill time during softball Hot Topics discussions. Sure, Kellyanne Conway or Candace Owens can deliver a screed about the dangers of “socialism” (a perennial McCain favorite), but it’s difficult to imagine them hanging with Joy Behar as she makes the same old jokes about menopause or Sunny Hostin as she discusses her rapidly-expanding farm. Co-hosts unable to shift from the political to the apolitical make for a drama-filled first half of the show, and a stilted, awkward second half.
Meghan McCain’s departure leaves ABC with two options: ditch politics altogether and watch ratings drop off a cliff, or hire someone even more conservative and set Twitter on fire. With traditional TV hemorrhaging viewers, which do you think ABC will pick?
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Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.