Golden Girls

The dowager View dismisses its debutante.

The post-menopausal club of The View

“She was my complete opposite,” Debbie Matenopoulos, the airhead former co-host of the live morning talk show The View (ABC), observed about Lisa Ling, who took over as the program’s youth representative after Matenopoulos was fired in 1999. “[Ling] was subdued and very conservative.”

That was snotty, but for years it rang true. Ling, who herself left The View this month, in part to become a pitchwoman for NuvaRing, a new vinyl contraceptive gizmo, was more subdued than her predecessor. From 1999 until this month, Ling withstood inexplicable slights by her colleagues—the dowager quartet of Joy Behar, Star Jones, Meredith Vieira, and Barbara Walters—with little protest. While Matenopoulos, who faced more overt harassment, had fought back with frivolity, vanity, and anti-intellectualism (“I never claimed to be a genius,” she said on the way out), Ling sat up straight, smiled broadly, and never questioned the egalitarian pretext of the show. Her training was in news, but here she was a willing minstrel of juniors-department hipness: patient and good-natured when it wasn’t her moment, up for a stylish on-air belly-piercing when the producers called for it.

But now The View has neither Matenopoulos nor Ling to kick around any more. They’re both out because of one vice: youth. After more than a thousand episodes of the show, it has become increasingly clear that Walters’ congregation of women from “different backgrounds” cannot, in fact, include women with backgrounds of fewer than 40 years’ duration. The ladies of The View don’t like young women.

Free of the burden of slim, sincere, smooth-faced girls, the hosts appear greatly relieved. If the show has less friction—I miss the suspenseful Matenopolous days myself—it also has a smoother rhythm. The women have eased completely into the stock sensibility of middle-aged talk shows, embracing the imperatives that one be healthy, careful, temperate, charitable, and moderately cutesy while at the same time skeptical, ribald, and world-weary. To this end, the self-described “ladies” revile cigarettes and diet pills; love philanthropy and baked goods; boast about their rocky pasts; quip about menopause and brassieres; and commiserate on the incorrigibility of men. They are no longer obliged to humor Ling’s evident indifference to cookies and cakes, her “modern” ideas about dating, her limited experience with heartbreak.

The View, as her opening voice-over used to say, expressed Barbara Walters’ lifelong dream: a morning panel composed of a working mother, an African-American professional, a can-we-talk comic, and a woman “just starting out.” Though the debutante is gone, Walters’s dream has otherwise endured. The group still talks about serious issues, like race, religion, and sex, and fun issues, like clothes. They dole out sisterly praise (to Phyllis George, Ricki Lake) and histrionic flirtation (to Denzel Washington).

View ladies tolerate a youthful Janet Jackson

Above all, two topics arouse the View hosts: marriage and long marriages. News of double-digit anniversaries is greeted with whoops of joy. “You just gotta do it,” Vieira instructed Jennifer Lopez, who admitted that she and Ben Affleck hadn’t set a wedding date. Lopez nodded. (The supercilious group failed us when Lopez admitted to recently winning $100,000 at blackjack in Las Vegas. $100,000? That deserved a follow-up question.)

No longer obliged to accommodate a full-time ingénue, the ladies happily dote on the few who pass through. They even tolerated Mariah Carey, in a revealing blouse, as long as she stuck to stories of her painful upbringing. “Pink diamond! How lovely!” Walters also hooted to Lopez, savoring a Junior League-style bond. On the same show, however, she fretted about the Cinderella theme of Maid in Manhattan: “You shouldn’t let young women feel that the only thing that’s going to change their lives is when this guy comes along.” This sinister possibility was elided by Vieira: “Even if he does, he’s got long nose hairs!” she said, turning to the audience. “Isn’t that right?” she called out. (It was.)

On recent episodes, the ladies have kept fawning with open hearts: “You’re such a handsome guy. You really are,” Vieira told Tom Brokaw. Admitting that she saw herself—a “funny woman”—in the filmmaker Nia Vardalos, Behar exclaimed: “You are so cute! Just marvelous!”

Only Rob Schneider—why him?—has taken advantage of the live format to remind the View ladies of their curious staffing issues: “First you get rid of the blonde, then the Asian—what’s next?” he asked.

“We did not ‘get rid of,’ ” Vieira insisted. “Lisa got a great job!”

“She did?”

“Yeah! We love her!” Behar cried.

“That’s a good rumor you put out there,” Schneider said.

“She quit us,” Jones explained. “She went to do something fabulous at National Geographic. She left us.”

Schneider wouldn’t quit. “Who does anything fabulous at National Geographic?” he asked.

Good question. The View women did their best to ostracize Ling, haze her, and shut her out of their hot-flashes humor, but, unlike little Debbie, she was too good to fire. Instead, she finally left on her own steam—to host a show called Explorer on National Geographic. Maybe it’ll be fabulous, but certainly Ling has livened up her off-air personality. Within days of her departure, she told a reporter that her grandfather had been a pimp. She flaunted the new form of contraception. She made the tabloids.

Back at The View, the klatch wondered about smallpox inoculations. The debate was quickly settled: “You were inoculated if you were born before 1971,” Behar told the group. She happily surveyed her co-hosts. “And everyone on this panel was.”