‘The View’ celebrates its 19th season with a rocky start – can the show fix itself

It’s clear after watching the season premier of the 19th season of The View that the show’s slide that began late in season 17 doesn’t look like it’s letting up. The episode opened with a new panel – Goldberg returns from last season, now in her 8th year as the show’s moderator; Joy Behar returns after a two year absence; Raven-Symone and Michelle Collins, both additions from last season are back; and the two newbies are journalist Paula Faris and former TV child star Candace Cameron Bure.

The show’s 19th season got off to a rocky start as each host showed her weakness, particularly the younger panelists. Surprisingly enough, it’s Behar who comes off best. The reason why Behar works so well is because she’s smart and funny, but there’s part of her that seems like she’d rather be somewhere else, which is funny and refreshing. It’s no surprise that Fred Armisen’s send up of Behar has him twitching nervously and muttering “Who cares?” Because that’s Behar’s essence. She’s not trying hard to be liked, nor does she want to sound provocative or controversial. She’s had over 15 years on The View to establish her persona as the liberal cutup, so she doesn’t seem desperate to make her mark.

Goldberg, the other View vet, seems to be unraveling. What’s fascinating about Goldberg is that The View shows off the Oscar-winning comedienne at both her best and her worst. At her best, Goldberg is insightful, intelligent, fearless, and thought-provoking. At her worst, she’s self-important, confusing, and garbled. It’s clear that as a performer, Goldberg is an important and vital social critic – when she has her patter scripted and memorized, there are few like her. But when it’s time for her to react off-the-cuff, she has as much of a chance of saying something absurd as she does, saying something profound. When Robin Williams died, Goldberg hosted a masterful hour in his honor; when Bill Cosby’s rape allegations were discussed, Goldberg failed miserably. The loose setting often will prompt a remark from the comedy legend that would have been edited out if she were producing a concert film.

Still, both Goldberg and Behar have gravitas to even transcend some of their bumpier moments. The same can’t be said for the other women climbing on this sinking ship. Of the younguns, Bure seems to be best choice. It’s no secret that Elisabeth Hasselbeck was a big part of why people loved The View: some agreed with her opinions, while others enjoyed seeing her publicly owned by the other panelists or a liberal guest. When Hasselbeck left, her slot was filled by Nicole Wallace, who was mostly known for helping run a doomed presidential campaign. She was an ill fit immediately, as she seemed indifferent to the show’s lighter segments, and unwilling to be goaded into a fight during the heavier moments. Simply put, Wallace was too brainy and moderate for a show like The View that thrives on conflict.

Bure seems like a perfect replacement for Wallace and Hasselbeck. Like Hasselbeck, she’s a beautiful mom, whose gorgeous and has an appealing demeanor. This may sound sexist, but it’s not – television personalities often rely on the visual, and Bure fits in well with the female conservative pundit role. And as seen by her few appearances last season, she’s willing to speak her mind, even if it meant offending her fellow panelists, as proven when she defended the rights of the Oregon bakers to discriminate against a lesbian couple. Raven-Symone literally pouted and fumed on camera, glowering as Bure offered a defense of “religious freedom.” Tellingly enough, it was one of the few times that The View was in the news, and it wasn’t about the hemorrhaging ratings.

While Bure seems like a good fit for the show, Collins doesn’t. Which is a shame because Michelle Collins is a talented comic, but her voice does not mesh well with the show, and she comes off as unfunny – which is a joke, because when she’s “on,” Collins is a real talent. Part of the issue is that Collins was hired as a stand-in for Behar – the funny, comic voice of reason. The problem is, she doesn’t keep abreast of the issues as much as Behar, and her schtick doesn’t translate as well to a panel discussion as Behar’s does; her one-liners sometimes work, but often they fall flat, leaving the hosts scrambling to fill the silence they expected would be filled with laughter and applause. She’s also unsure when to inject a zinger and when to simply discuss, which makes things awkward, as proven during a Kim Davis discussion, during which Collins went after Davis’ looks (thankfully, Behar quickly moved on from that poor-judged quip by insisting that Davis “looks fine”).

And finally Paula Faris. The View always has a “real” journalist to bump up its cred. In the past Meredith Viera, Lisa Ling, and, of course Barbara Walters, all sat at the table, giving the show a sheen of professionalism. Though Ling and Viera are accomplished journalists, well-regarded in their fields, this slot is a bit of a joke, because in one episode the women will discuss the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and then in another segment they’ll hash out the latest tweet from Kanye West, or discuss whether Kris Jenner is a good mom. It’s this schizophrenic approach to programming that often sinks the show because the individual panel members’ interest and knowledge of the subject veer wildly. In the last season, poor Wallace was left out in confusion land when the Kardashians were discussed, but then Collins looks mystified when Obama’s Iran deal is brought up.

At the end of the episode, there was a sad defiance to the way the women sat together, facing bravely another season of what will probably be lower ratings. In The View‘s wake, we’ve seen short-lived imitators (remember the all-male The Other Half) as well as successful Xerox copies (The Talk and The Real are both regularly beating The View in key targeted demographics). When Barbara Walters first cooked up this coffee klatch back 1997, it was to correct the imbalance she saw in current affairs programming. Women are rarely seen on television, and even it’s even rarer to see women discuss political issues, without some guy jumping in to mansplain. That’s why shows like The View serve a purpose. Unfortunately, the gist of the show got away when it became tabloid fodder.

So, is it curtains for The View? Or can the show survive and reinvent itself? Well, it’s unclear what kind of future the show has, but there are some things that it can do in the meantime.

  1. Get rid of the fluff pieces – no one cares. The Hot Topics segments are always a mixed bag. Sometimes the women discuss meaningful topical issues like trans rights or Islamophobia. When Rosie O’Donnell took over as moderator back in season 10, she successfully reinvented the show as a watering hole for politically conscious viewers. She was able to destroy the condescending cliche that housewives were more interested in household products than politics. Even though O’Donnell’s tenure on the show was brief, it had some of the most interesting conversations in the show’s 19-year history.
  2. Get a smart conservative. The jury is still out on Bure. But in the past, The View has been really spotty on getting a consistent conservative point of view. Wallace was one, but she also looked bored most of the time. The ideal would be the enthusiasm of Hasselbeck with the chops of Wallace. Also, it’s important that The View picks conservatives who are nice. In the past Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Star Parker have guested, and they are so unpleasant and hateful, that it leaves a bad taste in viewers’ mouths. One needn’t be a raging bigot to be a conservative, and The View has unfortunately contributed to that stereotype by its limited representation of thoughtful, kind conservatives.
  3. Get more comics – but smart ones. At one point in the show’s history, all of the regular panelists were comedians, with the exception of Walters: in the show’s lean 17th season, Goldberg shared the table with Sherri Shepherd and Jenny McCarthy. Unfortunately, this mix didn’t work because both McCarthy and Shepherd were more often than not, making some very questionable comments, and McCarthy’s anti-vaccination crusade seemed off-putting. But overall, the show works better when it’s smart funny women gabbing. Roseanne Barr, Kathy Griffin, Fran Drescher, and Wanda Sykes have all made appearances on the show, elevating the conversations and making the show funnier.
  4. Stop with the revolving door of hosts – it looks bad. Just as any company with high turnover looks unstable, the show’s penchant for shedding hosts makes it look troubled. Goldberg made a funny quip at the start of the 19th season about the mugs, which unlike the mugs in the past, did not feature pictures of the panelists, probably because it got expensive changing them around (“What are we gonna do with all these Debbie Matenopoulos mugs???”) but it’s a telling joke, because the musical chairs that The View is playing is making Destiny’s Child seem consistent by comparison.

 

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Filed under Celeb, celebrity, commentary, Television, Writing

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