Barbara Walters and the show she invented 15 years ago, "The View," pronounce themselves ready to step up. She may be past 80 now, but would YOU bet against her?
The show begins its new season Tuesday, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as guest. In a muddled daytime picture, "The View" plans to compete aggressively for displaced Winfrey viewers with a more topical feel, aggressive booking of guests and a few pages ripped from Oprah's playbook.
"Oprah was the only other show that did some of the things that we did," said Bill Geddie, executive producer. "Quite honestly, some of the people that we might have gotten second, we'll be getting first now."
"The View" has just as much chance as any to become the daytime talk leader. Late afternoon, where Winfrey's show ran across most of the country, is considered a more desired time slot than the 11 a.m. home of "The View." But a big mixture of personalities like Dr. Phil, Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper and Dr. Oz will now be competing in the afternoon, some of them new to their time slots or new to the business, and none goes in with a huge advantage in the ratings, said Bill Carroll, an expert in the daytime market for Katz Media.
Meanwhile, "The View" is a fixture at its time of day.
"Consistency always works in your favor," Carroll said.
Geddie noted that no 11 a.m. show has ever been the top daytime talk program, and he seems eager for the challenge of changing that.
The time slot was no real prize back in 1996. ABC had a string of failures there before asking Walters to come up with an idea for a show. She thought of presenting a handful of women with diverse backgrounds and opinions, primarily an entertainment show. Still busy at ABC News, Walters appeared only two days a week and asked Meredith Vieira to be moderator, a role now held by Whoopi Goldberg.
Only 60 percent of ABC viewers could see the show at first, and Walters remembers spending much of her first year cajoling station managers across the country to carry it. Now "The View" is seen virtually everywhere on ABC.
"The View" evolved to become more topical and opinionated as the years went on, a progression that is continuing. The Sept. 9 show will feature former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and focus on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman are each scheduled to appear in the first month.
Such guests co-exist with the popular "hot topics" opening segment, where Goldberg, Walters, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Sherri Shepherd kick around the day's water-cooler subjects. Still, Walters cautioned, "We are not `Meet the Press."' Not when Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian are booked for Wednesday. Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore and Alicia Keys are among other first-month guests.
Behar and Shepherd will talk about what it was like for each of them to get married this summer, and the show plans to candidly follow Shepherd's effort to have another child.
"We still do loving interviews," Walters said. "We're not Bill O'Reilly."
Fox News' O'Reilly, who's had some memorable tangles with the ladies of "The View," is also booked for the first month.
"Authors, actors, celebrities and so forth need a place to go," she said. "And we're a very good place to go. We're an intelligent show, we are a stable show, we like each other. ... It's a fun show, and I think they will feel all the more comfortable with us."
Sound like a pitch? Walters has made a few in her day. Much of the energy she brought to finding big interview "gets" for ABC News is now focused on "The View," where she usually appears three or four days a week. Firmly establishing the topical niche is a pre-emptive strike against CNN's Cooper, who premieres his show this fall, and Walters' ABC colleague Katie Couric. Couric, who was a guest host on "The View" for a week this summer, begins her own daytime talk show next year.
Geddie also talks about more frequently using panels of expert contributors - doctors, lawyers and such - to answer questions. That also sounds very Oprah-like, given the satellite system of contributors she developed through the years.
The competitive approach also extends to cosmetics. Instead of slapping a fresh coat of paint on an old set, "The View" completed a sleek redesign. Gone is the uncomfortable couch where Walters joked some guests nearly toppled over and off the set.
"We've always thought of ourself as the little engine that could, and now we're practically the railroad," Geddie said. "The landscape is changing, and it's not just Oprah. The soap operas are going away. At ABC, we were always the third or fourth show behind the soaps and now we're the No. 1 show. We felt that if we were a big show, we ought to look like it and act like it."