It was a great idea, and it worked for years.
But lately "The View" seems to be adding "The Jerry Springer Show" to its mix.
Where before, the sisters were doing it for themselves, now they seem just a little too keen to do it to each other. In the process, they're tarnishing the series with discord and tacky behavior.
So what's in sight for "The View" upon the imminent arrival of Rosie O'Donnell as its new panelist and, omigosh, its moderator? Anything but moderate, is Rosie really the right choice to restore cohesiveness, fruitful debate and good vibes to this sisterly salon?
She joins the show (which airs weekdays at 11 a.m. EDT on ABC) Tuesday, Sept. 5, as the program kicks off its tenth season. But she seems less a solution than another problem brewing — and an odd replacement for Meredith Vieira (who left in June for NBC's "Today").
Vieira, the show's original moderator, was both traffic cop and cutup, not to mention easy on the eyes. With equal dexterity she could drop a candid revelation (say, her personal aversion to underwear) or draw on her distinguished TV news background for the "Hot Topics" segment that kicks off each hour. She even displayed a knack for handling the increasingly diva-ish, exhibitionist Star Jones Reynolds.
Reynolds finally wore out her welcome and was fired or quit (take your pick) in June. That took care of the tacky behavior.
But the strained mood remains, in no small part thanks to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who since late 2003 has filled the show's twentysomething slot — despite acting more like a high-strung teenage priss.
Besides Walters, the other remaining charter member is Joy Behar, a standup comic whose role as the middle-aged wag has become more urgent as she's called upon to use her wit to help defuse the tension.
But sometimes only the show's grande dame can put the brakes on Hasselbeck's motor mouth. Growing more and more exercised during a recent discussion of the "day-after" birth control pill, she finally compelled Walters to restore order. "Elisabeth," said Walters with don't-push-it-I'm-the-boss firmness — "calm down."
Will Walters be forced to keep Rosie in line, too?
To put it mildly, Rosie is a creature of extremes. She was dubbed the "Queen of Nice" for her hit daytime talk show that aired for six years starting in 1996. But one element of this overwrought "niceness" was her fetish for celebrities.
Routinely she mooned over Tom ("my Tommy") Cruise, of course. But her fawning reached record heights with the legendary visit to her show by Barbra Streisand, whom Rosie received with a pageant of trembling hands, confessions of nervous diarrhea and a sobbing pronouncement that "you were a constant source of light in an often dark childhood."
Around the time she called it quits for her show in May 2002 (to help raise her four children with her partner, Kelli Carpenter O'Donnell), she formally announced she was a lesbian — or "just a big-mouthed fat lesbian" who "ain't so nice," as she described herself a few months later in her standup comedy act.
Her namesake magazine, Rosie, ended its stormy 21-month run in December 2002, by which time she had already bailed, claiming the publishers had wrested control from her. Dueling lawsuits and damning testimony about her unhinged management style came next.
In 2003, she produced a Broadway musical, "Taboo," that starred pop-star has-been Boy George. It closed after three months, losing most of her $10 million stake.
Now she's about to start a new gig, and, though unavailable for press interviews, she's been yacking about it on her blog — not always in the most collegial terms.
"it will be hard 4 me 2 not b the boss," she wrote recently in a style reminiscent of the poet e e cummings. "it is already and we have only just begun."
Elsewhere on her blog, she responded to a fan concerned about her pre-arrival beefing. "the discord is internal inside myself," Rosie insisted. "feelings are not fights."
Can she keep that "internal turmoil inside myself" inside herself while starring on a freewheeling talk show like "The View"? Can Rosie, one of whose numerous identities is that of a raging liberal, possibly keep her cool alongside Hasselbeck, a devout mouthpiece for "family values," as the term has been snared by the religious right?
Or is that the point? Is hiring a volatile figure like Rosie a calculated move to ensure "Jerry Springer"-like clashes? Is Rosie, a conflicted and polarizing personality, meant to lock horns with Hasselbeck, fulminating daily from the other extreme?
Whatever's the case, Rosie just might find when she gets to "The View" that it's very hard 4 her 2 keep it all 2together.
By Frazier Moore