Barbara Walters retires from daily television work on the May 15 edition of The View. As NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans notes, Walters may just be the real parent of today's TV journalists, who often meld the worlds of entertainment and news.
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Barbara Walters is retiring after 53 years on TV. Tomorrow will be her last day as co-host of ABC's "The View." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says that for television news, Walters has been just as influential as legendary pioneers like Edward R. Morrow.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It's easy to dismiss Barbara Walters as a cartoon. Gilder Radner nailed her in a classic "Saturday Night Live" sketch.
GILDA RADNER: (as Baba Wawa) Hello, this is Baba Wawa.
DEGGANS: (as Baba Wawa) I'm speaking to you tonight from my home what you all saw on my wast special and wiwwy wiked a wot. Rememba?
DEGGANS: Big hair, the mangled words, the odd questions - the jokes almost wrote themselves. But Sherri Shepherd, her co-host on "The View," pushed back after Walters said on the show she would retire.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Every show pretty much that is on the air is "The View." The fact that you got two black women on the show, you never seen two black women together...
DEGGANS: Here's the thing: I think Shepherd didn't go far enough. Barbara Walters is the founding mother of modern TV news. She mixed personal and political, celebrity and serious. That's how every news broadcast works now and it started on NBC's "Today" show in the 1960s. Walters was an ambitious writer and producer. She even dressed as a Playboy Bunny for a story.
BARBARA WALTERS: My matching shoes would fit one size larger than I normally take. Standard equipment is the Bunny cottontail.
DEGGANS: She earned lots of firsts: The first female co-host on a morning show at "Today," the first woman to co-host an evening newscast at ABC, and the first anchor to earn a million dollars salary. But she really shook up TV news with her primetime interview specials.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Enter the private homes and private thoughts of Jimmy and Rosalind Carter.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: She's great.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And Barbra Streisand and Jon Peters.
WALTERS: Do you love him?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "The Barbara Walters Special."
WALTERS: Why don't you
DEGGANS: She asked the president-elect if he slept in a double bed with his wife and got blockbuster ratings. But some important politicians wouldn't play along, as Walters told the Archive of American Television about her live interview with former President Richard Nixon.
WALTERS: And so, I asked him: What it was that got him through all those difficult times. And he said: Why do you have to ask me these questions, Barbara, why don't you ask the serious things.
DEGGANS: She had another question about his feelings ready.
WALTERS: Are you sorry you didn't burn the tapes?
DEGGANS: Nixon didn't want to answer touch-feely questions but he gave Barbara Walters an important answer.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: The answer is I probably should have.
DEGGANS: And she could really make celebrities sob, like the moment she asked Oprah Winfrey about her close friendship with Gayle king.
WALTERS: Why is it making you cry?
(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)
OPRAH WINFREY: Shoot, I wasn't going to cry here. It's making me cry because I'm thinking about how much I probably have never told her that.
DEGGANS: Then in 1997, she co-created "The View."
WALTERS: I've always wanted to do a show with women of different generations, backgrounds and views. And in a perfect world, I get to join the group whenever I wanted. We call it "The View."
DEGGANS: Walters' career includes the most groundbreaking, enduring, and troubling trends in TV journalism: high anchor salaries, mixing of news and entertainment, the worship of celebrities, and a focus on news coverage that brings ratings and money.
We may idolize traditional newsmen like Walter Cronkite, but Barbara Walters shaped much of today's television journalism. She gave viewers the television they wanted, even when it wasn't always great for the journalism.
I'm Eric Deggans.
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