I read about Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View in a magazine. I want to say PEOPLE, but it could have been Entertainment Weekly. I knew right away I wanted to read it. Behind-the-scenes books are one of my guilty pleasures, especially when they involve celebs.
I went to my favorite local bookstore, Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA, in search of it. Though they didn't have it in stock, they ordered it for me, gave me a call when it was in and I had it two days later.
The book is written by Ramin Setoodeh, a long-time journalist, currently the New York bureau chief at Variety. Because he has been covering celebrities for his entire career, he was already intimately familiar with many of the women who would wind up with seats around the table at The View.
On page three, Setoodeh helps explain what made The View so special, "In television history, The View's influence is significant in a way that doesn't usually get said out loud. When Barbara started the show, with a group of pals (Meredith Viera, Star Jones, Joy Behar and Debbie Matenopoulos), news and opinion were clearly separated. In the pre-Twitter age, reporters such as Barbara weren't allowed to tell the public what they thought, let alone speculate about a president's marriage or relationship to his mistress of children (which The View made into a national pastime). The show offered a venue where opinion wasn't just as important as the news, it was the news in some cases."
Setoodeh brings us into the casting conversations, as early as who would sit alongside Barbara when the idea was first hatched. I didn't realize that Debbie Matenopoulos was only 22 years old when she started! I can't imagine being under that much scrutiny so early in your post-college career.
I wasn't surprised to read about Star Jones' diva behavior, especially around her wedding. I remember those months clearly when they were happening.
What I didn't quite remember was how big a deal it was when Rosie O'Donnell agreed to join the show, after having tremendous success on her own daytime talk show. On page 140, "Rosie wasn't just an influencer. She was also a tastemaker. After she showed her audience a Tickle Me Elmo doll, it became the sold-out holiday toy of 1996, fetching thousands of dollars on eBay. She sang songs about getting a mammogram for breast cancer month, which saved lives. She conducted one of the first interviews in the US with J.K. Rowling, after Rosie discovered Harry Potter before the rest of us."
The book paints Rosie as intimidating, demanding and cruel to her co-anchors and production team. There are pages upon pages about the demise of her relationship with Elisabeth Hassleback, and how it all came to blows on air.
A good chunk of the book also explores Rosie's very public feud with Donald Trump, which was sparked when she described his "bankrupt." On page 165, " . . . Trump went nuclear. He always subscribed to the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and this was his chance to dominated the airwaves, serving as his own spokesperson. Trump appeared on more than twenty programs with one goal in mind: to viciously attack Rosie."
In addition to sharing the scandals, the book lists every single co-host through the years. How they were brought in to audition, what producers liked about them (or didn't), who they were allies with once on the show and how they were let go or replaced. As I was reading, The View began to feel like a revolving door of women who wanted to talk current events, without having to know much about politics.
What's sort of amazing is that after all these years (more than 20) the show is still on! Even without Barbara.
At the close of the book there is a note about sources. Setoodeh says, "The research for this book took three years and involved more than 150 interviews with producers, agents, network executives, and guests." He continues, "Ultimately, I conducted lengthy conversations with eleven of the cohosts, with periodic follow-ups over the phone or email. Barbara Walters, who gave me her blessing, met me for an iced tea near her home shortly after I'd sold this book. She connected me to her trusted executive producer, Bill Geddie. Eventually, he and I spent many hours over several months talking near his home on the West Coast. He was always gracious in helping me tell this story. And this is the first time he's told many of these anecdotes to a reporter."
As you read, it is very clear that Setoodeh had unprecedented access to the show and everyone involved in it. This book is not observations from an outsider, but true stories and facts, shared by the people who lived them. I loved it, and if you're curious about how these television shows come together, increase ratings and survive beyond a year or two, you've got to read this.
*Image courtesy of IBBB.