August 21, 2014

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ABC Isn't The Only Network Who Should Honor Barbara Walters

Her first network should as well.

Barbara Walters has said her last day as a co-host on The View will be May 14.

While not everyone believes it will be her last television appearance, ABC, her network for nearly 40 years says it will, at the same time, air a two-hour retrospective of her career.

Since she has been at ABC for so long, younger and middle-aged people understandably assume that's always been her network.  But it wasn't.

Walters first became known to viewers from NBC's Today show, where she first appeared in the early 1960's.  While she wasn't officially a co-host until 1974 (two years before leaving for ABC and a much-publicized and argued $1 million contract), she was on the set every morning with the program's host.

Originally, that was Hugh Downs (with whom she later co-hosted ABC's 20/20), and later Frank McGee and Jim Hartz.

But in nearly 15 years on Today, Walters had an impact on that program and on morning television and TV news.

Before Walters, the female regular on the program was known as the "Today girl", or "tea pourer", as some called it.  The position was held mostly by actresses or former beauty queens (or both), and her role wasn't much more defined than that of models on game shows.

It was on Today where Walters developed what now is known as the newsmaker/celebrity "get" interview, the desired and often probing interview with a headline-making individual.  It was what got the attention of ABC News, then desperately trying to become a player in the evening news race.

And it goes without saying that her higher profile, both on Today and on ABC (first on the evening news, then in specials and on 20/20) also made her a role model for women also seeking careers in the 1970's and beyond. It wasn't until the mid-to-late 1970's when women began anchoring network and local newscasts.

But that all began not at ABC, but at NBC. Although Walters had a difficult departure from NBC in 1976 (as she has explained in her autobiography, Audition), but has appeared on nearly all of Today's anniversary retrospectives (the most recent in 2012), and was interviewed on Today when ABC anchor Peter Jennings died in 2005.

Although some might think it's overkill, I think it would be a natural for NBC to do its own Walters retrospective, perhaps on Today itself.  For someone who has had the impact on television and TV news she has, it makes sense.

 

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