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How’s ‘The View’ During Self-Isolation?

The daytime television mainstay is well equipped to handle the challenges of broadcasting without a live studio audience

ABC/Ringer illustration

Two weeks ago, Elisabeth Hasselbeck emerged from retirement to cohost an episode of The View for old times’ sake. Inevitably, Hasselbeck and Joy Behar argued about Donald Trump’s crisis management amid the global coronavirus pandemic: Hasselbeck praised Trump’s “strong leadership,” and Behar said she’s not taking medical guidance from “Doctor Bone Spurs.”

The reunion cast the former cohosts in classic form: the snarky progressive Behar challenging the wide-eyed evangelical Hasselbeck. The episode was filmed in a studio lined with empty seats; the show’s producers had banished the show’s live audience to comply with the “social distancing” guidelines that have revolutionized so many daily routines during the pandemic. Whoopi Goldberg opened the episode with some eager teasing about the missing audience. “Welcome to The View!” she repeated to the empty seats as she and her cohosts, Meghan McCain, Sunny Hostin, and Behar tried to keep the show running with only minor complications.

In the two weeks since Hasselbeck’s reprise, The View has reconfigured even further after several of its cohosts retreated into self-quarantine: Goldberg, citing her respiratory sensitivities; Behar, citing her age; and McCain, citing her pregnancy, are broadcasting from home, while Hostin and cohost Sara Haines remain on set. The View’s chatty roundtable format now resembles a messy teleconference. Cohosts and guests are patched into the show from remote studios, casting the talking heads against green-screen backdrops and otherwise private quarters. Strangely, Behar seems to be streaming through Zoom on her iPad while connected to Wi-Fi in her attic. Graciously, Goldberg has transformed her living room into the mobile command center for her ensemble operation. Elsewhere, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel have relaunched their solo talk shows as low-tech, housebound productions, but Goldberg, Behar, Hostin, and McCain already happen to cohost the nation’s messiest talk show—an hour of daytime television defined by its on-air spats and backstage intrigue, led by a cohort of cohosts who prove exceptionally combative, treacherous, dysfunctional even by morning TV standards. Under the current circumstances, The View looks as janky and chaotic as the cohosts always have, iconically, behaved.

The View rivals Hardball, Meet the Press, and Morning Joe in its political significance despite resembling The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Live with Kelly and Ryan, and The Wendy Williams Show in its entertainment coverage, core demographic, and overall style. In just the past few weeks, The View has hosted several high-profile politicians: Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden discussed the global coronavirus pandemic; Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar stumped for Biden, while New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stumped for Bernie Sanders; Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren antagonized Donald Trump, and Florida representative Matt Gaetz stumped for the president’s re-election; former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams campaigned to dismantle the electoral college; Andrew Yang touted his signature UBI proposal, and former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel promoted his new book about leadership. Though The View’s hosts challenge their political guests in fits and starts, Goldberg, Behar, Hostin, and McCain reserve their most scathing inquiries for one another in the discussion segments before and between guests. Hasselbeck notwithstanding, The View’s cohosts have trended toward sensible commentary about the pandemic. “I think people are starting to recognize all over the country that this is no joke. This is not a left-wing conspiracy to get you-know-who out of the White House,” Goldberg says. “This is real.”

ABC has broadcast The View for 23 years, and while more than a dozen cohosts have come and gone, the producers have forged a durable format: Four or five women sit around a coffee table to discuss news, politics, and popular culture. Currently, The View addresses 3 million viewers, and its ratings have risen in recent weeks. Barbara Walters masterminded The View for 17 years until she retired from television in 2014. Gradually, Walters and her producers transformed the friendly roundtable concept, as pitched in the archival VHS footage of the show’s first rehearsal, into a tumultuous forum for personality clashes and partisan catharsis. Even without Walters, The View persists in accordance with her provocative design. Behar, Goldberg, Hostin, and McCain discuss Trump and his presidential rivals, Congress, the global coronavirus pandemic, and other political disasters. Goldberg “moderates” discussions in the term’s loosest sense. Behar riffs about “social distancing” and rants against Trump. McCain plays “the sacrificial Republican every day,” as McCain once referred to herself during an on-air confrontation with Behar last year. Hostin recites the relevant medical guidance and statistics, in diligent management of facts and tone, in order to keep the show from devolving into cable news-style banter. The world turns. The View endures, in productive dysfunction, as the country collapses into quarantine zones linked by low-res video conferencing and other e-commerce communication channels. The View presents the nation’s most over-elaborate work-from-home arrangement. To wit: “Don’t feel bad for me, bitch,” McCain snapped back at Behar during that confrontation, “I get paid to do this!”