Online Features Editor Bryan Knight interviews Ramin Setoodeh on his recent New York Times Bestselling Book.
A talk show surviving more than one season, in our current broadcasting climate, seems almost miraculous. Lasting twenty-two years is unthinkable. Yet this is the reality for one show – The View.
In 1997 Barbara Walters created the multigenerational platform for women to discuss a variety of ‘Hot Topics’. For the past two decades America’s daytime audience has sought both entertainment and education from the show. Though not American, I too include myself in this group. My love for The View began in secondary school when I would frequently watch YouTube clips of the ‘ladies’ going head-to-head on topics such as abortion, Sarah Palin and gay marriage. I could not contain my excitement when I heard about the recently published book, Ladies Who Punch, which documents the evolution of the show. To my delight, the New York Times Bestselling author Ramin Setoodeh agreed to an interview to discuss his recent project.
Since its release, Setoodeh’s book has received a lot of media attention due to revelations about the show’s hosts. Those unaware of the show must understand that in its twenty-two-year run, The View has been no stranger to controversy. Each era of the show’s history came with its own power-struggles and occasional turmoil. Ladies Who Punch is divided into three sections which centre on the show’s biggest personalities: Barbara Walters, Rosie O’Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg.
‘I knew that in order for this book to be successful I would have to have interviews with almost everyone on the show’
Setoodeh’s extraordinary access, through his interviews with eleven of the show’s co-hosts, exposes the palace intrigue surrounding the talk-show. “I knew that in order for this book to be successful it would have to be a deeply reported book and I would have to have interviews with almost everyone on the show… it was a really lengthy process”. Unsurprisingly, due to the nature of their departures from the show, O’Donnell and Star Jones required the most convincing.
The book explores the arc of transformation in which many of the hosts underwent. Jones, a lawyer and news contributor, was the first co-host to bring scandal to the show. The View elevated her status to a point of no return. Setoodeh notes how she “became larger than life and it started to feel like the Star Jones show”. Being both eccentric and overweight, Jones soon became a fan-favourite due to her relatability. However, she was hiding her struggle with losing weight. She later decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery and forced her co-hosts to secrecy. “Star was very reflective of her time on the show and she talked very openly about struggling with her weight and getting a gastric bypass surgery… she was scared that it wouldn’t work and, as a result of that, she would be made fun of”. The tabloid hysteria over her rapid weight loss, and the fraught relationships with colleagues, culminated in an awkward on-air stunt aimed to hit back at the show. This unpleasant uncoupling from the show ushered in an equally-turbulent new chapter in the show’s history.
“When Rosie O’Donell came on-board she did make the show very political and very passionate and that propelled The View into its second act” Setoodeh notes. The book details the way in which O’Donnell’s tenure created a lot of friction due to her increasing interference with the day-to-day production of the show. O’Donnell lasted only for one season, but her last day went down in TV history due to her heated confrontation with Elisabeth Hasselbeck live on-air. Setoodeh observes how “Rosie had a very difficult and conflicted relationship with the show”.
As well as reporting on the fights between the hosts of the show, Setoodeh pulls back the curtains to expose the power struggles that also took place behind the scenes. The book highlights how many of the conflicts stemmed from disputes between the mainly-male executives in the news and entertainment divisions of the network (ABC), with both sides wrangling for creative control of the show. When asked about the reporting of the conflicts, Setoodeh comments “I think that there definitely has been sexism when it comes to The View and also there’s been sexism when it comes to the portrayal of the show”.
Walters is seen to have downplayed her role in the show’s production, whilst utilising her passive power
The book, concurrently, follows the career of The View’s creator, and legendary journalist, Barbara Walters. Whilst honouring the legacy made by Walters, Setoodeh also reveals the ambivalence held by previous hosts, such as Jenny McCarthy, towards the veteran broadcaster. McCarthy’s revelations about being scolded by Walters made headlines across America following the book’s release. Walters is seen to have downplayed her role in the show’s production, whilst utilising her passive power in the hiring and firing of her colleagues. Setoodeh notes that “Barbara Walters was open to having a platform where she would find talent and propel the talent… but I don’t think that she wanted it to be a ground for hostile egos or clashes in the way that it became”.
Setoodeh must be praised for his multidimensional portrayal of all the show’s hosts. “I didn’t want anyone to come across as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it was important for me to show all the layers and depths of these women and what they experienced on the show…what it’s like to be famous, and be a woman in Hollywood and try to have your own platform and vehicle, and the struggles that you have to undergo”
Hilary Clinton served as a “phantom sixth co-host”
A fascinating perspective, explored in the book, is the way in which the 2016 Presidential election campaign had been a climactic moment for the show. Both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton have frequented the show’s semi-circular table, and have been at the centre of many of The View’s controversies. Setoodeh even observes how Clinton served as a “phantom sixth co-host”. He goes on to state that Clinton was a “symbol in which the women saw themselves, [and] her narrative was part of The View from the very beginning of the show starting from her life as the first lady, to the Monica Lewinsky affair, to running for the Senate”.
When reading the book, one can see the show’s cultural significance and influence in America. Setoodeh states how “The View has placed a premium on opinion and showed that [it] can be as important as the news, on television… right now when you turn on CNN, what you see is essentially what you see on The View: pundits talking about the news but also interjecting their opinion. I think The View made it safe for people to express their opinions on TV”.
The book ambitiously, covers the show’s evolution from its conception to the present day. For gluttonous fans of the show, such as myself, the book’s coverage of the post-2015 years seems rather condensed and can leave you wanting to know more. This, however, is a minor critique as overall Setoodeh presents a well-researched and impartial report into the show’s history. Whether entering the book as a long-time viewer or simply a stranger to the show, Ladies Who Punch is a highly informative and entertaining look into the operations involved in producing a talk-show, as well as the TV industry at large.