Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images; Sonja Flemming/CBS
Kristen Baldwin
April 04, 2018 AT 10:15 AM EDT

Daytime TV talk shows are designed to distract.

Airing during the precarious slice of time that exists between the last cup of coffee and the first evening cocktail, these programs serve a vital function by drowning out our boredom, anxiety, and/or existential dread with their cheerful, cacophonous chatter about the day’s fleeting headlines and trending topics.

With that in mind, I embarked on a week-long journey with the two daytime chat shows currently vying for network TV supremacy: ABC’s The View, and CBS’s The Talk.

They appear quite similar on the surface — both feature a group of women, ranging from famous to quasi-famous, sitting around a table discussing the news (or “news”) and interviewing celebrities — but they’re both fundamentally different viewing experiences: The View is like a family dinner that’s uncomfortable because nobody bothers to mask their contempt anymore, while The Talk is a family dinner that’s uncomfortable because everyone’s so damn polite.

Launched in 1997 by TV news matriarch Barbara Walters, The View pioneered the women’s roundtable format in the US; when CBS announced The Talk thirteen years later, the network sought to set it apart from ABC’s daytime mainstay by noting that their “panel of well-known news and entertainment personalities” would “examine topical events and contemporary issues through the eyes of mothers.” While that may have initially been the case, the Talk of 2018 does not seem particularly focused on viewing life through the mommy lens, though parenting comes up from time to time, as it does on The View. ABC regularly refers to its rival in their press releases, trumpeting ratings triumphs like “The View… is delivering its largest season leads over The Talk in total viewers and women 25-54 in 5 years.” And yes, The View does hold an advantage over The Talk in total viewers (approximately 2.8 million vs. 2.6 million on average) — but really, isn’t it time to stop pitting these ladies against each other? Both shows play nicely in the background for viewers who don’t want to feel so alone in this world — it’s just that one happens to be louder than the other.

To be fair, The View seems more strident by design. Their “Hot Topics” segments — presided over by longtime co-host Whoopi Goldberg with detached efficiency — focus consistently on political headlines, the more inflammatory the better. As Joy Behar, who routinely expresses contempt for Trump and the voters who put him office, pointed out in the March 29 episode, “He’s really good for TV. Our numbers are up too!” Even though most of the panel is firmly anti-Trump — with the exception of Meghan McCain, described in her ABC bio as a “strong, respected Republican voice” — these political Hot Topic segments can become surprisingly contentious. When Sunny Hostin, a lawyer who serves as the moral hall monitor of the group, noted that she was “confused” about the President’s decision to ban transgender men and women from the military, Goldberg emerged from her situational fog at the end of the table long enough to snap, “You’re not confused! You’re too smart to be that confused!” Perhaps that’s why Sara Haines, a former ABC News correspondent, sticks to a “just the facts” approach during these discussions — though as a result she doesn’t make much of an impression. (I referred to her as “Blonde No. 2” in my notes for days before finally learning her name.)

Celebrity gossip comes up during Hot Topics on occasion, much to the View co-hosts’ chagrin. After listening to her colleagues discuss the latest Kim Kardashian “photoshop fail” for approximately 60 seconds, Goldberg turned to the camera and asked wearily, “Are my ears bleeding?” before throwing to commercial. Over on The Talk, meanwhile, celebrity news and human interest stories dominate their #EverybodyTalks segments — but in keeping with the show’s eagerness to avoid judgment or snark, the headlines are mostly used as discussion-starters for more general questions. Thus, “Savannah Guthrie apologizes after accidentally swearing on the Today Show” becomes a broader discussion: “Have you ever had to apologize for cursing?” This sometimes leads to awkward transitions, as when co-host Julie Chen — who brings the same newswoman gravitas to a story about eating disorders as she does to announcing the rules for a Veto competition on Big Brother — began one recent segment by announcing that a Chinese space lab was headed toward earth, and then turned to ask her tablemates, “What is the last object you got hit by?”

Even when The Talk tackles politics, Chen and her co-hosts try to keep it light. No one raised their voice during the March 26th discussion of Stormy Daniels’ interview on 60 Minutes, though Sharon Osbourne — the panel’s seen-it-all blunt talker — grumbled about the “ugly little mess” and how “unnecessary” it is to air a president’s dirty laundry. “It’s his decision. He has to live with his actions.” Before things got too tense, though, comedian Sheryl Underwood, the show’s primary source of spontaneity, drew the conversation to a good-natured close: “It wasn’t juicy enough — but I thought Anderson Cooper looked handsome!” Not that the Talk talkers can’t handle weighty issues: When the conversation turned to an elementary school teacher in Texas who was suspended for telling her students she has a wife, Sara Gilbert — the show’s creator/exec producer and herself openly gay — first joked about being “ill-informed” for not being up to speed about the “homosexual agenda,” but then quickly turned serious: “There is no homosexual agenda that I’m aware of, but the person who is having this teacher kicked out has a heterosexual agenda, and that is someone who doesn’t want anybody to be gay.”

Neither show has yet to master the art of the celebrity interview — something that’s difficult to do well one-on-one, let alone in a large group. The crosstalk that plagues The View’s Hot Topics segment occasionally seeps into the interviews (“Who’s gonna ask a question?” barked Goldberg, when overlapping chatter brought an interview with the cast of Roseanne to a halt), while the regimented, everybody-gets-a-turn interview style of The Talk can make for some choppy and disjointed interactions. (Eve, who joined The Talk last year, seems particularly flummoxed by the interview segments, as though someone just handed her the questions 15 seconds before the show went live.) But sometimes, when the celebrity and the panel are well matched, interesting discourse can happen — as when Sunny Hostin’s questioning prompted Geraldo Rivera to apologize (again) for his tweets supporting Matt Lauer. And I doubt I’ve ever seen a daytime segment as rewarding as Jeff Goldblum’s meandering, flirty interview with the women of The Talk, which featured this cosmic observation from the actor: “This table is crumbling right before our eyes… It’ll all be dust.”

Love ya, Jeff, but those are exactly the kind of thoughts we’re trying to avoid when we watch daytime TV. So which show serves as a better distraction from our inevitable return to dust? As with so much in life, the answer isn’t clear-cut — but for me, The Talk edges out The View by a hair. While the show’s controlled environment doesn’t make for much excitement, it’s definitely a lot less taxing on the synapses. The Talk: B, The View: B-

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