May 15, 2014
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How Barbara Walters changed the TV game forever
By Bill Harris, QMI Agency


Journalist Barbara Walters aarrives for "A Celebration of Barbara Walters Cocktail Reception" in New York May 14, 2014. Walters is set to retire after more than 5 decades in journalism. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Barbara Walters will just have to get used to The View from home. At 84, that won't be such a bad thing.

But with Walters signing off as a regular on-air contributor to The View (ABC, CTV) and ABC News on Friday, May 16, it got me thinking about her staying power in the face of comic adversity.

Back in the 1970s when Saturday Night Live was the new kid on the block, Gilda Radner started impersonating Walters, accentuating her well-known speech patterns. You know, when Radner's Walters, a.k.a. Baba Wawa, said something was “really, really large,” it came out as “weewy, weewy waaawge,” etc.

Walters, of course, was well established by then, but it speaks volumes about her iconic status that her reputation withstood the jokes. Somehow, despite being joked about, she never became a joke. And there's never a guarantee of that.

In the same era, Dan Aykroyd used to impersonate news anchor and TV personality Tom Snyder, with his trademark loud laugh, and many would argue that Aykroyd's impersonation kind of killed Snyder's career. For whatever reason, Walters could take repeated mockery but viewers continued to confirm her relevance.

Walters has spent more than 50 years in front of TV cameras. She was a groundbreaker on repeated occasions.


She first became known on The Today Show in the 1960s, doing what were deemed to be "women's stories" in that era. But subsequently as a female breaking into the cutthroat, male-dominated news game, by 1976 she had become the first female co-anchor on a U.S. network nightly newscast, working alongside Harry Reasoner on the ABC Evening News.

Then Walters' primetime interview specials saw her chatting with powerful politicians and popular celebrities in a manner that was not previously the norm. Finally, Walters was ahead of the curve yet again when she co-created The View in 1997.

There have been more than 3,800 episodes of The View over 17 seasons, with 11 co-hosts. In addition to Walters the list includes Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Joy Behar, Debbie Matenopoulos, Lisa Ling, Rosie O’Donnell, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Sherri Shepherd, Jenny McCarthy and Whoopi Goldberg.

Like Walters herself, The View often has been the butt of jokes, but the jokes never have been able to stop it. No one can argue that The View changed TV. It has produced more copies than a Xerox machine.

After Walters says farewell Friday morning on The View, there will be a primetime special Friday night on ABC titled Barbara Walters: Her Story.

And her story is our story, if you've watched TV at all in the past five decades.

Twitter: @billharris_tv

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

 




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