In honor of the 20th anniversary of a show that launched a thousand jokes, careers, and imitators, ABC re-aired the very first episode of veteran journalist Barbara Walters’ passion project The View in its entirety Friday morning. As a not-infrequent View viewer, I was excited to see exactly how much the show has changed in two decades. The short answer? Both an enormous amount...and not that much!
Four women of varying ages and backgrounds sitting in a living room-like setting casually talking about pop culture, politics, sex, and relationships? Now that description matches countless series. But back when The View premiered (on August 11, 1997), there was nothing else like it on American television.
Though the hosts, tone, and quality of conversation has changed plenty since then, the structure has remained largely untouched. After all the co-hosts (Walters, Meredith Vieria, Star Jones, and Debbie Matenopoulos) introduce themselves, they get right down to business with Hot Topics. You know what? Let me just take you on a journey through the entire episode.
The first indicator that this episode was filmed in 1997—apart from the flash back graphic in the bottom-left of the screen and two (2) mentions of “unlisted numbers” before the five minute mark—was the fact that the very first hot topic in the history of Hot Topics was a story about John F. Kennedy Jr. (pauses for effect) based on a letter from the editor (pauses for effect) he published in an issue of George.
Apparently John John was in the tabloids for shitting on his cousins by calling them “the poster boys for bad behavior,” but the ladies soon reveal that, surprise surprise, his quote was taken out of context! It’s here that Ms. Jones Esq. pulls out her Xeroxed and highlighted copy of the recent George letter from the editor and shows that the late son of JFK and Jackie Kennedy Onassis didn’t actually call his cousins the “poster boys for bad behavior”—he was defending them from the people who were! Jones then explains that taking quotes out of context is common in the tabloid industry. Fascinating.
DEBBIE SHARES AN ANECDOTE ABOUT DREW BARRYMORE BEING ON THE FIRST COVER OF GEORGE DRESSED AS MARILYN MONROE. NO ONE CARES.
“It feels like the summer of infidelity,” Meredith then says as the screen behind her changes to reflect her observation. “Why are we so obsessed with adultery?” she asks. “Everybody’s talking about it.” They briefly touch on the high-profile alleged instances of adultery committed by Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and Prince Charles before polling the audience:
“Do you care is a politician is unfaithful?”
Half of them clap YES.
Half of them clap NO.
“Why should we care…if they’re not married to us,” muses Star.
“I do think character matters,” posits Barbara.
If Bill Clinton is having sex with someone else, Star adds, “that’s Hillary’s problem.” The audience loves this.
Moving on, the ladies discuss Princess Diana’s new romance with Dodi Fayed. This is related because Diana’s marriage ended in divorce due in part to infidelity. “I think Buckingham Palace will be delighted by this,” says Barbara of their rumored impending nuptials. “Because Charles and Camilla go up in scale.” What a wild opinion!
Note: Diana died less than a month after this episode is filmed.
Guess what, ladies! It’s commercial time. “She can have Dodi,” Meredith says, teasing their first guest. “But we have Tom Selleck.” Iconic.
Note: In every pre-commercial break tease, the voice of the announcer refers to Tom Selleck’s role in In & Out (the movie he’s there to promote) as either “daring,” “brave,” or “risky.” This is because it’s 1997 and he’s playing a gay man who kisses Kevin Kline.
This dull interview begins with Meredith saying, “You are so nice to come here on the first show and so smart to know this is going to be such a hit.” After briefly discussing his role as an entertainment journalist in In & Out, she asks, “Why would you wanna play one of these guys?”
Tom Selleck, woke in ’97, responds, “You mean ‘guys’ in the generic sense, don’t you?”
She did, as it turns out. Also nothing else about this interview is remotely interesting.
Before cutting to the next commercial break, we see the first ever Question of the Day. They should have tried harder.
After the commercial break, they ask Selleck what his answer is. In typical Selleck fashion (the man is notorious for loving guns), he says, “I would take the gun my dad gave me.”
After a teeny tiny bit of laughter, he asks, “Because I own it doesn’t make me a bad person, does it?”
It doesn’t, they assure him.
“It means a lot to me.”
Boring! Moving on, the ladies pull out the things they would grab on the way out of their hypothetical burning home.
Meredith: A photo album.
Debbie: This book:
AFTER HOLDING UP HER DUMB BOOK, BARBARA MAKES A RUDE COMMENT ABOUT DEBBIE’S “GUNMETAL” NAILS. DEBBIE RESPONDS WITH SOMETHING LIKE, “ACTUALLY THEY’RE—” BEFORE GETTING CUT OFF BY STAR.
Barbara: A photo of her mom, dad, and sister.
Star: After complaining that The View’s producers “made” her move from “beautiful and hot” LA to “cold” NYC to do the show, she reveals the thing she would save from a fire would be her fur coat. At this point, I whisper, “Iconic,” aloud.
After the next commercial break, Barbara sits down with writer and relationship guru Vicki Iovine—whose books would go on to inspire the TV show The Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce—to discuss “the gender gap.” Hold me now. Barbara is immediately and openly turned off by Vicki the moment she casually mentions that she slept with her then-husband of 12 years (Jimmy Iovine) on their first date. It ruins the momentum of the entire interview and is clearly surprising to Vicki, who struggles to make her admittedly stupid points.
Those points include:
- Ladies, don’t interrupt you man while he’s watching sports!
- Ladies, don’t use the expression “it was meant to be”! Men hate that!
- Ladies, don’t repeat things you’ve already told your men! (“This works with children and men,” she says.)
If these tips weren’t 1997 enough, Vicki makes one (1) reference to mohawks, and one (1) reference to Weekend at Bernie’s.
Note: During the Bernie’s moment—during which she says her husband sometimes reminds her of Bernie when they’re together, meaning he’s there but not present, yikes—Barbara admits that she has no idea what Weekend at Bernie’s is. Vicki cannot believe this.
After this disappointing chat, Barbara teases the final segment. “When we come back, you’ll meet the other member of our group. And when she talks, everyone listens.” WHO COULD SHE BE TALKING ABOUT????
At this point, the ladies finally bring out their other co-host—the woman who will fill in for Barbara on days she works her better jobs—Joy Behar!
“This is our first day and we’re having a great deal of fun…and when I’m not on, I want you to meet my counterpart, my pal Joy Behar,” Barbara says.
“They’ve been keeping me in the broom closet this whole time,” Behar responds. The audience loves her immediately.
Here’s her first “bit”:
“I’m divorced. Hard to believe.”
[laughter from the audience]
“If you wanna know how old I am, People magazine will be printing that next week.”
[so much laughter from the audience]
“‘Rin Tin Tin, 12,’ they are so annoying.”
[the laughter is deafening]
“You’ll learn much more about her in the years to come,” the always-prescient Barbara says after Joy’s introduction.
And with that, episode one of The View comes to an end. The ladies hug and kiss and give each other high-fives, and I scratch my head wondering how this show went from a mostly-pleasant (if a little boring) discussion of current events among women who more-or-less tolerate each other to what it is now: a place where Joy Behar openly shows her disdain for all her other forgettable co-hosts apart from Whoopi, who is only there to show off her shoes.