Eleven in the morning wasn’t always television prime-time. But who can remember that far back? Ever since “The View” first aired in 1997, the time-slot became a legitimate hour for breaking news.
In the past few months it’s become the news. On Monday, Whoopi Goldberg, announced that she along with her four other co-hosts (Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd and show creator Barbara Walters) would share the round-table with President Obama in a taped interview to air Thursday. With the President’s ratings down, a daytime interview with the shows’ hosts–only one of whom, Walters, is a veteran journalist–speaks volumes about the influence the women have on the country. Scary? Maybe. Sherri Shepherd thinks the world is flat. But that doesn’t seem to bother the President.
“It’s interesting that Obama didn’t choose to go on a late-night show,” says Slate editor Jessica Grose. “He clearly wants to appeal to the show’s demographic of women ages 18 to 49. It might be a response to what Sarah Palin’s drumming up. She has that loyal, aggressive mom base, so maybe he’s hoping to reach that same segment of people.”
Sure “The View” has Palin groupies watching. But that’s just a fraction of its audience. The ratings hardly reflect the amount of people tuning in each day–since many of them are catching clips online. If we were measuring on sheer viral potential, the show would far surpass Oprah.
“‘The View’ has repeatedly proven to have a reach that far exceeds its actual audience,” says New York Daily News TV editor, Richard Huff. “Clips of big moments on the show tend to go viral after they occur, and it’s not unusual for entire stories in print and online to come from what is said on the show.”
If you’re a newspaper heading to print in a few hours, or a website looking for a late morning story, the show’s timing couldn’t be better. Far more so than a late-night or even mid-day Oprah interview, that goes viral the following day amidst a clump of top pick news stories.
So being on “The View” is like to taking a megaphone to both the airwaves and internet, at the exact second when everyone is ready to listen.
Last week, the co-hosts handed over the megaphone to wrongfully fired government official Shirley Sherrod. Amidst a media storm, Sherrod chose the show to air her personal experience, detailing every moment of the botched command chain; moreover what it felt like, sitting in traffic in her car, fielding accusations. It was the what-it-felt-like part that really resonated, a tactic the co-hosts expertly draw out in a way that hard-hitting political shows don’t.
“The View’s” Sherrod interview, which flooded the internet, may be the impetus for Obama’s decision to appear on the show. It’s hard to know if he’ll address the same issue, but he’s sure to address the same audience.
“It’s interesting to note that Obama chose an explicitly non-partisan show for his interview. The show doesn’t throw hard-ball questions out but he will get something from the other side with Hasselbeck at the table,” says Grose.
The diverse, though lightweight, views of the hosts has made the show a destination for politicians looking for a wider reach. It was practically a stop along the campaign trail in 2008. McCain paid a visit, as did First Lady Michelle Obama. Her position as co-host one episode–on a par with the women set to represent equal factions of the female population–won major points for her husband’s campaign. Despite having ample intelligent commentary, simply wearing an affordable dress made front pages and won her fans nationwide.
While the Barbara Walters’ brainchild has journalistic DNA, the mixture of reality star, comic and pure-bred celebrity hosts offers a more distilled take on hard-hitting issues. “They give a kind of peanut gallery impression of world events,” says Grose.
In a time when tweets are expected to convey the news as much as any thousand word article, their ability to shrink stories is an asset– it’s bad, it’s good, it’s right, it’s wrong, it’s pretty. Knock it all you want, but their opinions make headlines–however far-fetched they may be.
Last week, Whoopi’s defense of Mel Gibson’s racist tirades was the talk of celebrity, media and news sites. It was the kind of thing in which both viewers and high-profile guests relish. When do you ever see Brian Williams or Diane Sawyer offer an opinion that’s likely to offend a large group of people? The flawed nature of the hosts, and the fact that they are as much under fire as the guests, has made the show the go-to destination for viewers– and now world leaders.
If you’re someone like Obama, who’s used to one-on-one grillings, the pressure is off. Surrounded by a group of foot-in-mouth interviewers, the likelihood of the guest saying something stupid versus the hosts, is well, 1 to 5. Strangely enough, that might be the key to their success.