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More Women Taking In 'The View'

Television: ABC execs say the daytime talk show will be renewed for a second season.


NEW YORK — Seated around a dining room table, the co-hosts discuss the "hot topics" of the day. Meredith Vieira announces that she hugged a tree this morning to celebrate Earth Day. Star Jones, responding to a story about a handyman service for single women, says she wants "a real husband, not a rental."

Barbara Walters dishes about the very careful seating arrangements that will be required at a White House correspondents' dinner to be attended by both President Clinton and Paula Jones. All of the women agree that the best place for gossip at that event will be the ladies' bathroom.

Welcome to "The View," the ABC daytime talk show that aims to combine "Live With Regis & Kathie Lee" with "This Week With David Brinkley."

"I've always thought that the most interesting parts of the Brinkley show were when the panelists just talked--and Regis and Kathie Lee are funny talking about whether the new refrigerator arrived on time," says Walters. "I wanted to do a talk show that would have interesting conversation among women of different generations."

Walters and her longtime producer, Bill Geddie, created "The View" after ABC executives asked them if they had any ideas for daytime television. Mixing celebrity guests with topical chat, the show has been winning converts and slowly building an audience since it premiered last August in a morning time slot in which ABC had not had success in many years.

Its audience of about 2 million viewers per day is still below average for a daytime network program, but it's doing better than the show it replaced ("Caryl & Marilyn") and has increased its viewership among the all-important demographic group of 18- to 49-year-old women by 38% since it premiered.

Praised by TV critics for being a positive, smart alternative to some dysfunctional daytime talkers, "The View" also picked up eight daytime Emmy nominations this spring. Another sign that it's being noticed: It has come in for parodying on "Saturday Night Live."

The program is in Los Angeles this week for a May sweeps week of shows. Among the guests will be Burt Reynolds, Sinbad, Clint Black, David Hasselhoff, Jimmy Smits and Dennis Franz.

Each of the women on "The View" represents a different age group and different facets of a woman's life. Walters, one of the first prominent women in TV news, is in her 60s. Vieira, the show's moderator, is a fortysomething mother of three and former correspondent on "60 Minutes" and ABC's "Turning Point." Jones, in her 30s, a former prosecutor and legal analyst for Court TV and NBC, has a Mae West delivery but likes interviewing inspirational authors. Debbie Matenopolous--in her 20s and a former production assistant at MTV--has a shrine to the Bee Gees in her dressing room and has never heard of some of the musicians Walters likes. And fifty-ish comedian and radio talk-show host Joy Behar contributes New York-style wisecracking when she co-hosts the show three days per week.

Walters appears twice a week, alternating with Behar, but the TV anchor is involved in all aspects of the show as co-executive producer (with Geddie), frequently calling in notes on the days she's not on.

"I love doing this show, and I'm committed to it," says Walters, who also co-hosts ABC's "20/20" newsmagazine two nights per week with Hugh Downs and does prime-time specials for the network.

Today after the show, Walters goes over the promos for the Los Angeles trip with Geddie, schedules a screening of her upcoming interview with actor Christopher Reeve for "20/20," and orders a new air-conditioner to replace the one that has just broken down at her apartment.

"I don't get to have too many lunches with my friends," says Walters, eyeing a paper plate filled with tuna fish and crackers.

Part of the appeal of "The View" is seeing Walters let her hair down a bit. She sometimes talks about being a single woman, and she has revealed to the audience that she doesn't drive. "She has some insecurities--like all of us," says Behar, "and I think people like knowing that."

Walters is even risque on occasion. "I've been teasing her about being fixated on Viagra [the new anti-impotence drug]," says Vieira. "She finally said the word 'erection' yesterday--it sounded bawdy, just because it was Barbara Walters."

Vieira, who was interested in "The View" because it didn't require travel, has been surprised by how much she likes doing the show. "I've got so many bottled-up opinions, I'm like that guy in 'Network,' yelling out the window."

Matenopolous is still surprised that she's even on the show. Last spring, her roommate (and MTV co-worker) got a call from an ABC talent coordinator looking for young news talent. Matenopolous, a graduate of New York University's School of Journalism who had done only brief appearances on some MTV shows, auditioned and got the part.

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