Whether you idolize her or loathe her, it’s hard to ignore the countdown to the retirement of newswoman Barbara Walters.
Even back in 1975 when Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live” spoofed her as “Baba Wawa,” Walters already had nearly a quarter-century of media experience under her belt.
Walters entered the broadcast industry in what was very much a sexist “Mad Men” era. Through hard work and savvy networking, she proved herself and broke through the “glass ceiling,” although her quest for total media domination fell short of breaking through the “Oprah ceiling.” (“Maybe if I call in some favors, I can star in a remake of ‘The Color Purple’ and give a car with genuine Castro cigars in the ashtray to everyone in the audience and...”)
Walters is a reminder of the golden era when journalists were well-trained, well-connected, well-supported professionals and our TVs echoed with the sound of reporters going toe to toe with monarchs, tycoons and Hollywood legends. Now all we hear is Edward R. Murrow turning over in his grave as 10 million bloggers announce something along the lines of, “Here’s a selfie of me and Ben Affleck — or some guy who sure looks an awful lot like Ben Affleck — right after I Maced him to gain his cooperation.”
Millions of viewers have made an annual appointment with the “Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People” specials. We have trusted Walters to be our judge and arbiter of what is fascinating and noteworthy and worthwhile. Of course some of us lost our faith when we learned that a stagehand caught her saying, “Ooooo! A laser pointer! How fascinating! When I try to grab it, it goes every which a way! Hold still! C’mere, you!”
Walters set a ratings record for news program viewership when 74 million Americans watched her 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky. Time constraints forced Walters to leave out some Bill Clinton quotes that showed just how presidential Clinton was, even in times of scandal. (“Monica, if you like your self-respect, you can keep your self-respect.”)
Although Walters says she will remain as behind-the-scenes producer of “The View” for as long as it is on the air, she is understandably calling a stop to the daily grind of on-air TV appearances
Perhaps Walters will use the extra time to write a sequel to her 1970 book “How to Talk with Anybody about Practically Anything.” Unfortunately, it would now probably be titled “How to Talk with Anybody about Practically Anything but Somehow or Another Inevitably Steer the Conversation Back to How Fascinating They Think Hillary Rodham Clinton Is.”
I fear Walters’ experiences with investigative journalism may render her unable to enjoy retirement the way most people do. What could possibly bring her peace and contentment? Lounging on a beach that she and “20/20” had once exposed as a toxic waste dump? Eating at a four-star restaurant she and “20/20” had exposed for using mule meat? Curling up with a good book from a publisher she and “20/20” had exposed for running a sweatshop of underage workers who were permitted only a five-minute lunch break eating mule meat on the beach?
Yes, a frustrated Walters may find herself begging ABC for on-air exposure, perhaps interviewing water-skiing squirrels on “America’s Funniest Videos.” (“If Katherine Hepburn had been a tree, would you have climbed up her?”)
Contact Danny Tyree at firstname.lastname@example.org.