UPDATE 11 AM MONDAY: Walters says “I have no announcement to make.”
Monday morning on “The View” comes the long time star of ABC’s soap opera “General Hospital,” Anthony Geary. But a bigger soap opera is looming right there on “The View,” and it’s much more complex than anything Luke and Laura have had to face. The show returns live with Barbara Walters and the pressing question: is she announcing her retirement from ABC News and this program? Or did ABC leak a story to media sites on Thursday knowing that Friday was a holiday and that the story of Walters’ exit would become a fact before it could be disputed?
Even producers at “The View” have no idea what Walters is planning to say when she marches on stage at 11am Eastern. True, she’s 83 years old, and had some illness issues this winter. But Walters is a supreme game player. She will not go down without a fight. And while ABC News chief Ben Sherwood is young enough to be her son, Walters is no fragile senior citizen. She has a lot of fight left in her.
Since the story broke on Thursday, there’s been a lot of strange stuff. On Friday’s “Good Morning America,” the panel at the desk actually discussed this as if they weren’t on ABC, and weren’t being directed about what to say. They sure made it seem like Walters was leaving her career.
But I told you immediately on Thursday, Walters’ conversations, according to sources, had been about leaving ABC News. She planned to stay with “The View” indefinitely, certainly beyond May 2014. This May the show will lose Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck (who hasn’t announced her plans yet). But there’s obviously a power struggle afoot. And lest anyone forget, Walters will remind you: she invented “The View” and owns a piece of it.
So what will she say? A source says: “I can’t believe she will just give in and say it’s over. I think she’ll say she’s thought about retiring from News, and intends to stay with the show.”
I can tell you about a time I was with Walters when she went through tense negotiations with ABC News in June 1991. I was interviewing her for Vogue. At that exact moment, ABC News chief Roone Arledge was making it tough for Walters, who then had “20/20″ as well as her specials, and substituted on “Nightline” and on “GMA.” Things were so fragile that Walters brought Henry Kissinger into it. (I can still remember her asking me to leave the office so she could take a call from “Doctor Kissinger.”) Eventually she rode it out. Arledge succumbed, and Walters made it through the 1990s at least.
Can she do it again? Her back is against the wall. Syndication is an iffy deal for any kind of specials. Larry King has already shown that it’s not easy to function from the outside. Of course here’s a crazy scenario: Walters leaves ABC involuntarily but lets them make a big deal of her retirement. She immediately, even at age 84 or 85, makes a deal with NBC, appears as a guest host on “Today,” and gets some killer interview. Stranger things have happened.