Cheesecloth and chisme

ABC's 'The View' does for working women what Prozac did for Abbie Hoffman

Advance press for The View, the Barbara Walters-conceived "chatfest" vehicle that finally arrived on local daytime television earlier this month, promises candor, insight, and some mild shock value that is supposed to ensue when women frankly speak their minds. The show won the 2003 Daytime Emmy for "Outstanding Talk Show," an honor it shares with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which airs at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on WOAI.

But DeGeneres' show, a kindler, gentler Letterman format without pretensions to substance, is genuinely funny and, since she's out of the closet, there's ample opportunity for double-entendre jokes that poke fun at 21st-century America's hang-ups. Over at The View, wisecracks about being flat-chested, and good-natured shouting matches over why straight women love gay men are sandwiched between appearances by television stars promoting their new season and segments celebrating co-host Star Jones' wedding (the September 15 episode featured "Star's Bridal Registry," a giddy girlie trip to places such as William Sonoma, bar code reader in hand). Admittedly, there was a smattering of good advice about buying wine glasses and "white tie" versus "black tie," but I had to wade through 50 minutes of fluff that made me yearn for a Valium.

Jones, a former prosecutor who served as a legal commentator before coming to The View, is joined on the dais by former Turning Point news anchor Meredith Vieira, comedienne Joy Behar (curiously, often the quietest of the bunch), professional cheerleader Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and, roughly three days a week, Walters herself. Hasselback's main contribution is to say encouraging things to her co-hosts and audience members. After volunteering to design a wedding gown for an audience member, Hasselback assures the young woman, "I'm going to be your new best friend!"

The View
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Vieira, the only co-host who brings any real gravity to the proceedings, often seems to be working to conceal the look of a bored, but polite baby shower guest. Based on the breathless 10 minutes spent on Jones' wedding invitation, I assume baby shower fun will soon follow for both Star and recently married Elisabeth - who have taken to wearing their hair like Heather Graham in Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me - a look that begs not to be taken seriously.

The entire show, in fact, begs not to be taken seriously. I assume that all bright professional women have girl time, but if you've got a personal life of your own, why would you want to watch theirs? On the face of it, the show seems to be tailored to assuring career women that they are still attractive, sexy, and fun if they stay in touch with their inner 'teen. Many of the live studio audience members, however, look like they missed the career girl trend by a generation. Maybe they like the implicit message that you can be a wonderful wife and mother without actually touching potholders (true, incidentally), or perhaps it's reassuring to see heiresses of the feminist revolution carrying on as if they'd like nothing so much as a monthly allowance and a pedicure.

In a recent New York Times interview marking her departure from 60 Minutes, Walters admitted that the idea for The View popped out of her mouth without much reflection when studio execs asked her if she had any ideas for new programming. It's a concept that might have worked well in the tiny cultural epoch between Roe v. Wade and Oprah but, as it stands now, The View reminds me of Margaret Thatcher's witticism: Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you're not. •

By Elaine Wolff

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