When The View premiered in 1997, the world had never really seen a show like it—radical, almost, in its simplicity. Barbara Walters’s aim in creating The View was to present an array of differing viewpoints from different women, in a casual, chatty setting that was unlike anything on television before. It wasn’t quite a hit in the beginning, but it shaped the way daytime television worked, spawning countless imitators in its wake.
Ramin Setoodeh’s book Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View , out today, dives deep into the show’s behind-the-scenes drama. It’s a compelling narrative, gossipy and wide-ranging and fun: Consider the excerpt below, courtesy Setoodeh, which highlights how impactful The View was at its height.
Despite soft ratings, The View coasted into its second season, primarily because nobody from the daytime TV team had the chutzpah to cancel Barbara. Then in November 1997, The View became infamous, thanks to a recurring skit on Saturday Night Live. Writers Tina Fey, Lori Nasso, and Paula Pell were amused with Barbara trying to pass herself off as a regular gal, with a group of girlfriends.
When Fey first arrived at SNL that year, she had made it her mission to write sketches for women. “And then I thought, ‘Oh, this thing is new. We could do this,’” Fey recalled. “And there were parts for almost everybody.” Cheri Oteri played Walters at a faux Hot Topics table, alongside Molly Shannon as Meredith and Ana Gasteyer as Joy. The celebrity hosts, from Claire Danes to Sarah Michelle Gellar to Cameron Diaz, took on Debbie. “Tracy Morgan was in drag”—as Star—“because there were no African-American women on the show,” Fey said, with a sigh.
The first time they did the skit, “we were the only ones who had seen The View,” Fey said. “The more dudely members of the staff were, like, ‘What is this!?’” They thought the entire conceit had been made up. “No, this is a real thing,” Fey told them. “I remember going to the wardrobe room after we had done it in dress rehearsal. And someone in costumes being, like, ‘You’re a feminist. Well, I hope you’re happy making fun of women!’” Fey was surprised: “Oh, no. I’m trying to give these actresses parts,” she recalled thinking. “When Chevy Chase plays Gerald Ford, he’s goofing on him. I was, like, ‘We have to be able to goof on women, or we’ll never get the women on.’”
Oteri agreed that The View was ripe for parody. “My take on Barbara was really funny,” Oteri told me. “She would always ask a question and then bring it back to herself—like, ‘I was at a make-your-own-sundae party with Madeleine Albright and a young Vladimir Putin.’”
The satirical portraits elevated the cohosts’ fame. SNL’s Star was a talkative lawyer who doled out legal advice in situations that didn’t call for it. Joy sputtered out jokes. Meredith came across as the straight one, who sometimes went overboard with personal secrets—such as her distaste for wearing underwear. “She just seemed like somebody who loved being a woman,” Molly Shannon said. “I said to her once, ‘You seem like you like coffee and sex. You’re sultry. You’re Meredith!’”
“I loved it,” said Meredith. “Being on the show meant that you had arrived.”
Thank god for Barbara Walters, and thank god for The View.