These days, Live With Regis & Kathie Lee has taken on the sweaty, embattled atmosphere of what I imagine it was like being trapped along with Patricia Hearst when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army — except that instead of revolutionary condemnations of oppressive capitalism, Kathie Lee Gifford gives us screeds about proper child rearing and the venality of a free press. Meanwhile, long-suffering, increasingly exhausted-looking Regis Philbin watches in misery. When Kathie Lee goes off on a rant, I always expect Regis to hold up a crayoned sign behind her saying, “Help! I’m being held media hostage by a deceptively perky madwoman!”
In many markets, the daily Kathie Lee rolfing session is followed by The Rosie O’Donnell Show, where the host’s initial pepperiness has turned quaintly snappish and impatient, more single-minded in pursuing her favored agendas. (Rosie: Love the way you shoehorn big Broadway musical casts onto your tiny stage to plug the Great White Way to middle America; am troubled at the way your natural instinct for plugola leads to squirmy moments like you wearing a turned-backward Jackie Brown Kangol cap to interview Samuel L. Jackson.)
But television audiences (meaning me and you, my fellow Cocoa Puffs-‘n’-coffee breakfast viewers) love nothing more than a fresh act, and Regis, Kathie Lee, and Rosie — while still ratings dominant — are currently being challenged for our attention by the latest I-can’t-believe-I-watch-the-whole-thing chat show, The View.
Talk about redeeming an unpromising premise — imagine, a daytime talk show whose primary promotional lure is Barbara Walters! Here she is acting like a bejeweled mother hen, each day voice-overing intros of the rest of the panel: Meredith Vieira (“a working mom” — not mentioning she used to be a 60 Minutes cohost); Star Jones (“a professional in her 30s” — not mentioning that she’s a lawyer who honed her media chops on the O.J. trial); the show’s designated sassy gal, Joy Behar (“a woman who’s done almost everything and will say almost anything” — not mentioning she’s a stand-up comic, and a good one); and Debbie Matenopoulos (“a young woman just starting out” — not mentioning that she’s a jabbery camera hog with a stick-on nose ring).
Babs shows up only a couple of days a week, since her workload also includes elbowing Hugh Downs awake two nights a week on 20/20. The rest of this demographically impeccable bunch have taken a while to get to know. They started out in August polite and namby-pamby, but lately they’ve loosened up delightfully, sniping at each other with gleeful abandon. The other day, when Matenopoulos said something about how, when it comes to makeovers, you shouldn’t “fool Mother Nature,” Jones snapped, “Oh, like you, Miss Blond Hair,” snickering at the Debster’s licorice-stick roots. After Vieira told what was meant to be a touching tale of childhood fun that included soap making, Behar cut her off with a disbelieving rasp: “You were making soap? What was this, the colonial period?” I thought poor Vieira might burst into tears.
For a guy like me, The View is a nice cheap thrill — gee, is this what it’s like to be at a multigenerational pajama party? And if the whooping enthusiasm of the mostly female studio audience is any measure, it’s a party women are also glad to be invited to. True, there’s a lot of gush over the daily guests; introducing Goldie Hawn, Serious Newswoman Walters said with unctuous incoherence, “Goldie’s name was written for her — she is golden.” And a recent segment on the face-lift of soap star Linda Dano managed to be both feministly brave and really creepy: Posing beside a “before” picture that made her look like a Scream victim just realizing a knife was about to enter her eyeball, Dano chattered happily about how “they did my face and my neck” — plus, she also lost 40 pounds!
In order to maintain the classiness supposedly inherent in a show coexecutive-produced by ABC News correspondent Walters, The View also takes care to deal with current news events, most often by sifting through the morning papers in a rip-off of Regis and Kathie Lee’s opening segment. At other times, it provides the flippant vulgarity of talkers like Leeza and Jenny Jones wrapped in a politically correct package. In the show’s necessary effort to boost its slowly, steadily rising ratings, it’ll be interesting to watch whether The View ends up taking a higher or lower road. In either case, I recommend having Debbie Matenopoulos hit the road — America’s new morning coffee klatch needs a more principled twentysomething, a riot grrrl with a pierced nose stud and opinions that are nothing to sneeze at. Wouldn’t Ani DiFranco like a TV show? The View: B
ABC The View 11 AM-NOON WEEKDAYS