Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of

Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of "The View"

by Ramin Setoodeh


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When Barbara Walters launched The View in 1997, ABC executives repeatedly told her that hosting the show would tarnish her reputation as a serious newswoman. Ten years later, The View was being watched daily in the living rooms of tens of millions of Americans and launched the careers of Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Joy Behar. But the daily chat­-fest didn’t just comment on the news, it became the news. The women of The View were opinion-­makers and power brokers, and no one questioned the show’s importance or its place in history.

As viewership continued to top the charts, a seemingly endless series of clashes among the stars (and their guests) and a revolving door of co-hosts earned front-­page coverage in magazines and newspapers. National headlines chronicled Rosie O’Donnell’s feud with Donald Trump, Whoopi Goldberg’s conversations about race, and Walters’ struggle to maintain control of it all.

Laced with humor and a cast of larger-than-life characters, this is both a timely chronicle of 21st century daytime television and a classic tale about power. With in-depth reporting and new interviews, this story takes readers behind the scenes where these very public figures struggled to balance image, ambition, friendship, and loyalty, while changing television forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250112095
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/02/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 3,843
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

RAMIN SETOODEH is the New York bureau chief for Variety. He was formerly a senior writer at Newsweek and has also written for The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and U.S. News & World Report, among other publications. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt


Everybody's a Critic

For a long time, nobody had any clue why Barbara Walters — who symbolized the gold standard of the TV news business — would dip her feet in the murky waters of daytime. This was the genre that gave rise to paternity tests, plastic surgery, and "too fat to wear." In 1983, a serious broadcaster named Sally Jessy Raphael started a talk show with the goal of tackling lofty societal issues. But a few years in, she caved and went the tabloid route. All her competitors were doing the same. Geraldo Rivera staged so many fights he ended up with a broken nose during an episode called "Teen Hatemongers." Maury Povich made a cottage industry out of unfaithful boyfriends. Jenny Jones was on a constant search for guests who didn't know their real daddies. Jerry Springer presided over a circus of angry misfits who threw chairs and fists. The nuclear arms race for smut TV was the complete opposite of Barbara's brand, as an erudite ambassador of world news — with access to everybody from Barbra Streisand to Mu'ammar Gaddafi.

Most daytime talk had evolved from Phil Donahue, who in 1967 launched his eponymous show that changed the culture. Donahue had no fear of boundaries or taboos — he tackled homosexuality decades before Will & Grace, once invited a Nazi to speak to an audience of Jews, and challenged a young Donald Trump about his real estate dealings. "We can't continue to give you guys these big tax breaks," Donahue scolded. Just as important, he taped his show in front of a live audience, taking their questions and concerns into living rooms across the country.

His no-holds-barred approach cleared the way for Oprah Winfrey, who duplicated the template. Winfrey had grown up in Chicago as a reporter who studied Walters on NBC's Today, imitating her interviewing techniques and style. When Winfrey landed her own nationally syndicated talk show in 1986, she gravitated toward education and information, emulating a best friend you can trust with your deepest secrets. By the midnineties, Oprah ruled the cult of stay-at-home moms with "remember your spirit" segments and book club recommendations. The inspirational programming made Winfrey the mightiest woman on TV, with up to 20 million daily viewers.

But in 1996, she finally got some competition. Rosie O'Donnell, a comedic actress from movies (Sleepless in Seattle, A League of Their Own, and The Flintstones), wanted to take a shot at her own talk show. She modeled her venture on a staple from her childhood: 1961's Mike Douglas Show, on which the squeaky-clean host chatted playfully with rising celebrities such as Aretha Franklin and Mel Brooks. Douglas was an early adopter of celebrity gab, an afternoon counterpart to The Tonight Show, which had started seven years before. In Rosie's reboot, the format stayed the same, but she revved up the pace with Broadway musical numbers, audience giveaways, and lengthy discussions about her crush — back when she was closeted — on Tom Cruise. As two of TV's biggest moguls, O and Ro built up their kingdoms, shaping pop culture and raking in fortunes.

Unlike soap operas, most talk shows are cobbled together quickly and inexpensively. There's no need for actors or too many writers toiling on scripts. The biggest expense is usually the host's salary, assuming he or she is a marquee name. Many of the giants in the industry started out small, such as Regis Philbin, who climbed into his seat on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee in 1988 after years as a local morning emcee in New York and LA. The measure of a successful host is genuine connection, imitating a BFF with jokes, self-help tips, and makeovers. It's not so easy, though. The daytime audience is impatient and fickle, with an appetite for sauce. Since Oprah's rise, an army of A- and B-list personalities have tried to mimic her — Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, and Megyn Kelly (anchors); Queen Latifah and Harry Connick Jr. (singers); Roseanne Barr, Tony Danza, Megan Mullally, and Fran Drescher (sitcom actors); Kris Jenner and Bethenny Frankel (reality stars) — only to fall flat on their coiffed heads.

But if you make it, the job is lucrative. Advertisers embrace successful daytime talk shows because they reach stay-at-home moms, who typically control their family budgets and watch the programs live, even the ads. As a result, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Phil, and Kelly Ripa earn multimillion-dollar salaries, in the same range as movie stars such as Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Pitt. Above them, there's that short-tempered brunette with a gavel, Judith Sheindlin, who cashes a check for $47 million a year. Her courtroom series, Judge Judy, which started in 1996, isn't really a talk show, but it plays like Jerry Springer meets Matlock, with wounded plaintiffs battling over unpaid dues and broken promises. "I would have been so happy if we had done three years, and I had enough money to buy a condo two blocks off the beach of Miami," Sheindlin told me. "That was my dream."

Sheindlin's perch in daytime is so towering and profitable that she scoffed when she heard that Trump had been considering her for a vacancy to the US Supreme Court. "It must have been one of those moments when he wasn't thinking," Sheindlin said. "I have too good of a day job."

* * *

By the midnineties, Barbara Walters was at the head of her class at ABC, carrying a hefty workload as the number one star of TV news. She served as the coanchor of 20/20, then a place for meaty investigations, cranked out Oscars specials, aired her 10 Most Fascinating People (which began in 1993 with Hillary Clinton at the top), and constantly outhustled her peers for exclusives. In 1995, she scored the first interview with a paralyzed Christopher Reeve, making headlines around the world. A year later, after the O. J. Simpson verdict, prosecutor Christopher Darden sat down with Barbara before anyone else.

Barbara grew up in New York and Florida, where she lived in a pistachio-colored house. Her father, Lou, ran a string of nightclubs, packed with showgirls and hit singers, which gave her early brushes with famous people — he was constantly socializing with the likes of Milton Berle, Johnnie Ray, and Frank Sinatra. "It made me the way I am," Barbara told me one day. "I'm not in awe of any celebrity." Her mother, Dena, stayed at home with Barbara's older sister, Jacqueline, who was mentally disabled. "My childhood was totally influenced by my sister," Barbara said. "It gave me a childhood that was sad and kind of lonely because there were things I couldn't do, like have friends over."

Barbara had a few false starts to her career. She wanted to be an actress, but she was too scared of rejection. "You can't be an actress if you're afraid of being turned down," she recalled. After a stint as a publicist (during which she learned how to manipulate the press, a skill that came in handy later), Barbara joined the staff of Today in 1961 as a writer. Because of her gender, this was groundbreaking for the time. "There were six male writers and one female," Barbara said. "And you didn't get to be the female writer unless she got married or died."

Through sheer determination, Barbara migrated in front of the camera, reporting segments about fashion or a night out with a Playboy Bunny. "I was not the natural choice when I began," Barbara said. "I was not beautiful. I had a speech impediment. That didn't help." She said the standards were different back then. "Most of the women in television now are very lovely, but they are also talented. In my time, they were maybe not as talented." Her secret to success was perseverance. "What I had was this creative curiosity and ability to ask questions," she said.

Her agent slipped a clause in her contract that if the current host left, she'd assume the title. Nobody thought he'd go anywhere, but when Frank McGee suddenly died of bone cancer in 1974, Barbara took over as the first female cohost, opposite Jim Hartz. "Since then, a woman is the cohost on the Today show," Barbara said. "That's my legacy." (In fact, now there are two women: Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb.) Barbara drew in viewers with her tenacity as she interrogated powerful men such as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger with her prickly questions. Because of Walters's success, TV executives started to let more women cover hard news, enter war zones, and tackle politics.

In 1976, she shattered another glass ceiling, when she left NBC for ABC to be the first woman coanchor of a nightly newscast. Her new employer shelled out a record $1 million a year to nab their new star — a deal that, forty years later, created a culture where Megyn Kelly could demand $25 million from Fox News, before ultimately fleeing to NBC. The hysteria over Barbara's move to ABC was followed by questions of whether she could cut it. The press ran sexist stories about how she owned a pink typewriter. Her co-anchor, Harry Reasoner, hated her, and the tension was awkward. "We were terrible together," Barbara said. "From the beginning, viewers were angry with me for doing this to poor Harry."

She survived by leaving the news desk and reinventing herself through her trademark specials. Barbara would convene three newsmakers — a celebrity, a world leader, and a miscellaneous person in the news — for an hour of prime time. She wanted to capture her subjects in intimate settings, so she devised the novel conceit of visiting their habitats. Barbara popularized the idea of bringing cameras into celebrity homes, long before audiences were used to MTV's Cribs or the Kardashians. She became just as famous as the people she interviewed, as she rode a wave of success for the next two decades.

But in her own home, Barbara's personal life was fraught. In the fifties, her father gambled away her family's fortune on a series of bad investments, putting pressure on Barbara to support her parents and her sister with her money. This was an especially odd arrangement for a woman of her generation, who would normally rely on a husband's paycheck for security. It meant that Barbara had to stay employed — in spite of Lou Walters's concerns about her longevity on TV. "He was afraid I was going to get fired," Barbara said about her father. His doubts instilled two traits in her that followed her for the rest of her career: a boundless desire for success and a lurking, irrational fear that her savings could vanish overnight. "I had to support them for so long," Barbara said of her family. "I knew I had to work, and I just worked harder."

Barbara consistently chose her job over her marriages (she had three, with the last one ending in 1992) and raised her adopted daughter, Jackie (who she named after her sister), as a single mother. "I don't think there was a person I should have been with," Barbara said. "I don't look back and think, 'How did he get away?'"

In 1984, she met the man who would become her most important companion — her hairdresser, Bryant Renfroe, who always stood by her, just a few feet away from the cameras. He came into Walters's life after he'd left his salon in Florida to perform miracles at ABC on Joan Lunden and Kathie Lee Johnson (who later married Frank Gifford). Fate led him to Barbara's apartment one afternoon, after her stylist had to bail. "When I finished, she looked at me and said, 'I can't go out like this.'"

Renfroe ripped up the instructions from the previous stylist and started over. "I always thought her hair looked awful," Renfroe confessed. "It was choppy, uneven, messy, unconstructed." He created Barbara's modern-day look, a bob haircut that was emulated by millions of career-climbing women (just ask Hillary Clinton). "It's called giving you cheekbones and jawlines," Renfroe said.

From then on, Barbara was inseparable from her gay best friend. Renfroe traveled with Walters to all her big interviews and meetings, such as a lunch with Princess Diana at Buckingham Palace. (Barbara always personally introduced him.) Renfroe not only tended to her hair, he provided her with constant moral support. "There were times where the producers gave me headphones because it was important that I heard," Renfroe said. After she'd wrap an interview with anyone from Cher to Barack Obama, Barbara would scan the room to make sure she hadn't missed anything, usually calling out one person by name ("Bryant!") for last-minute feedback. Barbara's idea of hell was forgetting an obvious question and waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat about what she should have asked. She relied on Renfroe to be her safety net.

No matter how successful she became, Barbara always pondered new ways to expand her empire. So in her late sixties, when most TV journalists are winding down — if not already deep in retirement — Barbara had a fresh idea. In the spirit of Gatsby, she gazed out at the green light from Oprah's and Rosie's docks and envisioned a rival creation, a competing act.

* * *

The View was born out of a conversation between a mom and her daughter, which seems right because of the maternal relationships — between Barbara and her cohosts — that would fuel the show.

In the summer of 1996, while wrapping one of her celebrity specials, Barbara took aside her producer Bill Geddie to tell him about a conversation she'd had with Jackie, then in her late twenties. "It's so interesting," she told Geddie. "She comes at the world from a completely different point of view." Barbara wondered if they could create a show around that premise, with women of different generations debating the headlines of the day.

Her inspiration for the format of The View came from two places. The first was ABC's This Week, a Sunday news program in which anchor David Brinkley held a roundtable with pundits arguing about politics. The other, Girl Talk, which aired from 1963 to 1969, lived up to its name with its host, Virginia Graham, booking trailblazers such as Cindy Adams, Olivia de Havilland, and Joan Rivers for cozy chats — Barbara herself had been a guest repeatedly. "I thought if you could combine those two together, you'd have a successful show," Barbara said.

And then there was a show from Barbara's own history, a missed opportunity that still gnawed at her. In the seventies, she hosted a local NBC program called Not for Women Only (the title alone hinted at the bias women in the TV industry faced). Barbara, who juggled the gig in addition to Today, would assemble a weekly panel of experts — among them soap opera writers, inventors, politicians' wives — to talk about important issues in the culture, at a time when the women's movement was on the rise, personified by strong heroines on such shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and One Day at a Time. Barbara's side project, which she binge-taped in an afternoon, was essentially a predecessor to The View, with rotating cohosts. "I sometimes think I should have hung on to that show, syndicated it, and I would have been a very rich person," recalled Barbara, momentarily forgetting her own considerable worth. "I didn't. But it taught me a lesson for The View."

Barbara didn't just want to headline her talk show, she also wanted a piece of ownership through her company, Barwall Productions. If it worked, it would be a big step forward, moving Barbara from TV star to entrepreneur. She picked Geddie as an ally because she trusted him. He'd spent a decade with her as the steady hand that oversaw her specials. Geddie, an imposing six-foot-four Republican from Texas in his early forties, could look like a bodyguard next to his five-foot-five boss; he acted as her protector. In his spare time, he'd written a screenplay for the little-seen 1996 thriller Unforgettable, starring Ray Liotta as a man wrongfully accused of murdering his wife.

It taught him how he didn't want to spend the rest of his career. "I was not allowed on the set and it was rewritten many times," Geddie said about his foray into Hollywood. "So I go to a test screening with a bunch of New Yorkers. It was very exciting for me and my wife. The first third of the movie is exactly what I wrote. Then it changes and people start laughing — it's not a comedy. By the end, it was a horrific experience, and we both sat up like ghosts, thinking, 'Oh my God, this is the worst movie ever made!' We walked through a crowd of smoking teenagers in front of the theater. And I remember one young girl took a big inhale and said, 'Who writes shit like that?'"

Geddie plotted to move up the ladder in TV. After he received a tip that ABC was canceling one of its daytime offerings, he told Barbara that this was their chance. They wrote up a proposal for what they could slot into that hour. In that first draft, they needed a name for their show, so they used a placeholder, Everybody's a Critic. It hinted at the tone for what the man behind the curtain hoped to achieve. "I wanted it to be a bitchy show," Geddie said. "Barbara did not want it to be bitchy. I got my wish, by the way."


Excerpted from "Ladies Who Punch"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Ramin Setoodeh.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Out, Damned Cohost! 1

Part 1 Barbara's View

1 Everybody's a Critic 9

2 Audition 21

3 Barbara Does Daytime 32

4 Death Becomes Her 46

5 It's a Hit 58

6 The Star Diaries 72

7 The Republican 82

8 Bridezilla! 92

9 Meredith's Great Escape 105

10 Scandal 117

Part 2 Rosie's View

11 The Queen of Nice 131

12 All Aboard! 148

13 Rosie vs. Donald 160

14 Ladies Who Punch 171

15 My Mouth Is a Weapon 182

16 Rosie Detox 193

Part 3 Whoopi's View

17 Sister Act 203

18 Elisabeth's Last Stand 217

19 Mommie Dearest 231

20 Barbara's Long Goodbye 241

21 She's Back 252

22 "Worse Than Fox News" 267

23 Enjoy the View, While You Can 279

Epilogue: Trump's View 287

A Note on Sources 297

Acknowledgments 299

Index 303

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Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of "The View" 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous 10 months ago
I love books about morning television, and I found this book to be informative yet entertaining. I’ll never look at The View the same again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you’re a fan of THE VIEW this is a MUST READ.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous 3 months ago
Well written and very perceptive. The author had me at Ladies, could not stop reading.
Anonymous 12 months ago
Don’t waste your money. There was nothing explosive over anything that hasn’t been made public. I think some of this was made up. The author contradicts himself twice. The only thing he seem to do is bash Rosie O’Donnell. Which makes me think that he doesn’t like her. If you were hoping for information or gossip you won’t get it. He often skips around and it’s confusing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and revealing. Well written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Ladies Who Punch" is the best insider exposé I've read in a long time. As a longtime fan of "The View," the book checked all the boxes for me in regard to providing insight into the development of the show, the relationships between the hosts and all the back-stage drama. If you're a fan of entertainment and want an engaging, fast and fun read, I suggest picking up "Ladies Who Punch." I wish the book never ended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Ladies Who Punch" is the best insider exposé I've read in a long time. As a longtime fan of "The View," the book checked all the boxes for me in regard to providing insight into the development of the show, the relationships between the hosts and all the back-stage drama. If you're a fan of entertainment and want an engaging, fast and fun read, I suggest picking up "Ladies Who Punch." I wish the book never ended!