Watching Barbara Walters' final episode of "The View" was a little poignant, though not as much of a tearjerker as I thought it might be. I was too distracted by the returning 11 co-hosts taking the stage. Did anyone else notice that insincere air kiss Star Jones gave Barbara? Did Debbie Matenopoulos seem a little desperate for attention that Barbara didn't seem all that eager to give? Given the contentious nature of some of the "friendships" on the show, as well as the less-than-amicable exits, it was tempting to look for subtext even as Walters insisted she loved each and every one of the women sharing the stage with her.
Still, some of the moments were heartfelt. Elisabeth Hasselbeck used her time to tell Barbara how much she means to her, and Meredith Vieira covered the exiting host with kisses. Everyone took some time to talk about their kids and grandkids (or other family members), a reminder that the show was always supposed to feel like a cozy coffee klatch among friends. And maybe frenemies.
Jones took her "favorite moment" window to poke fun at the 84-year-old for plugging "20/20" every time she had the chance. Though Jones said this was a hugely useful lesson to her about marketing the work you're proud of, it could also be seen as payback for the alleged reason for her ouster -- using the show as a platform to plug products she was "gifted" for her wedding.
We got to meet Walters' college roommate (who played an important role in genetic testing, from what I could make out amidst the cross talk), and it was ultimately a tightly controlled and carefully scripted farewell party. While I'm sure much of that had to do with trying to squeeze so many people onto the stage and make sure everyone was mentioned, it seemed a dismissal of what has made "The View" watchable -- the sense that anyone could say anything at any moment. Even Rosie O'Donnell was on her best behavior.
Walters will be the focus of a primetime sendoff tomorrow, but "The View" will soldier on (Friday episodes are taped on Thursdays). The real question is who will take over for Walters. It's not so much that the chair needs to be filled -- Walters cycled in and out according to her availability over the years -- but whether or not the show needs the mother hen oversight Walters provided, gently steering a sometimes unpredictable bunch of women toward the bright side. While Whoopi Goldberg is a more than able matriarch, no one left on the show has Walters' credentials as a journalist. That may not be a bad thing, though.
It may be sacrilege to say it, but I'm not all that torn up that Walters is taking a well-earned retirement. Though she could get into the spirit of things (the footage of her trying to drive with Richard Lewis in the passenger seat is priceless), she often had to stop the conversation to explain that she couldn't offer an opinion without violating her journalistic ethics. She could seem like the parent sent in to break up the party, which was often necessary but not that much fun. Recently she's seemed a bit off of her game, which probably comes from being 84. She's considerably more with it than many people half her age, mind you, but it was hard not to want her to take some time to sleep in, go on vacation and stop working so hard. She deserves a break.
How her exit will change the show, though, is anyone's guess. Walters is still a producer, so I don't think it will change much, at least not thematically (rumors are floating around that a man will be joining the show as a host, which would be a big change in some respects but not others). While "The Talk" is a little more ribald, "The View" aims to be enlightening every once in a while, tossing in politics and teaching moments amidst the dishy analysis of the latest gossip. Watching "The View" didn't feel like a guilty pleasure or something you should be embarrassed to admit.
Seeing everyone on the stage, I kept wondering if there would be some way to lure Vieira back, the one co-host who seemed to be best able to bridge wacky behavior (and man, she could be wacky) and gravitas. I know, she's really busy, so it won't happen. But "The View" could use a rudder, and the list of qualified candidates is pretty short.
I'm not against the idea of a man taking over hosting duties in theory, but it would be a little sad. When "The View" started, it was seen as revolutionary to have a panel exclusively made of women talking about events of the day, not just cooking and household tips. While a male co-host would suggest we've evolved, it also seems like a backwards step. As much as the show wanted to recall cute and cuddly moments in Walters' tenure with the show, it can't be overlooked that she accomplished something that nudged against the glass ceiling, and that should be the memorable moment we shouldn't forget.
Are you sad to see Barbara Walters go?