What we learned from "The View" reunion, from the fight that started it all to Joy Behar's firing

Barbara Walters apparently had a unique – and painful – way of keeping Debbie Matenopoulos from spouting bad takes

By Joy Saha

Published June 21, 2022 8:52PM (EDT)

Joy Behar on "The View" (ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)

The New York Times once called "The View" the most important political TV show in America." For 25 years, the popular ABC series has drawn in a loyal audience that tunes in daily to listen to discussions on the nation's most divisive topics.

The daytime talk show first premiered on August 11, 1997 and over time, it developed its "funny and fun" entertainment brand hat showcased intelligent yet lighthearted conversations on equally lighthearted topics, from pop culture to sex. It was also headed by a panel of five women: show creator and retired journalist Barbara Walters, veteran broadcast journalist Meredith Vieira, lawyer Star Jones, television host Debbie Matenopoulos, and comedian Joy Behar.   

RELATED: Barbara Walters' real legacy is "The View" -- and that's worse for women than we realize

"We are four women of different ages getting together the way you do at home, the way you wish you could talk about anything and everything," said Walters while describing the show in an early clip.

In celebration of the show's 25th anniversary, the special "Behind the Table: The View Reunion" gathers together the original co-hosts (sans Walters) with Behar acting as moderator to mull over the earliest days of "The View" and how the show evolved and impacted TV.

Here's what we learned from the reunion:

How that Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck fight started it all

The co-hosts reflected on the "critical" on-screen cat fight between former panelists, Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. The quarrel — which exploded after a discussion on then-President George W. Bush's tactics during the Iraq War suddenly turned personal —  was also featured in a dramatic split-screen format for the very first time. In clips, O'Donnell, who is unapologetically queer and liberal, is seen plastered on one side while the conservative Hasselbeck is on the other. 

"What you did was not defend me," O'Donnell retaliated in a snippet of the segment. "I asked you if you believed what the Republican pundits were saying. You said nothing. And that's cowardly." 

The shouting match was so harrowing that O'Donnell quit the show shortly afterward, weeks before her contract was set to expire.
  
For Jones, the altercation was a significant "The View" moment as it highlighted how she and her fellow co-hosts handled live discourse. 

"I thought that honestly, if I had to be critical, that would be the moment that I'd be critical of because I thought, no matter when we disagreed, we had the ability to disagree without it being disagreeable," Jones said, much to the agreement of both Vieira and Matenopoulos. "And when we set that up — it was a set-up." 

Matenopoulos added that the decision to use a split-screen was intentional because it heightened the drama and helped boost the show's ratings. 

"It was a choice because they knew, we're gonna get the ratings this way," she explained. "It's like when someone cries and they go, 'Go in tight, go in tight. Quick ask her another thing to make her cry. Go in tight.'" 

That split-screen format, not to mention the heightened conflict, has become a staple of "The View."

Star Jones on what she owes Barbara Walters

While discussing the early beginnings of her career on the show, Jones praised Walters and her efforts to push forward diversity, especially within an industry that was — and still is —  dominated by white men. 

"I'm gonna tell you, one thing Barbara does not get as much credit for — she raised the whole conversation of diversity and put it on television," Jones said. "She made sure that everybody heard the opinion of an overweight Black woman. She made it a big deal. I owe her my career. I really truly do."

Jones, who previously worked as a Brooklyn prosecutor and district attorney, added that Walters helped her become a better journalist. 

"I ask questions. I hear myself parroting something she would say," said Jones. "She taught me about the follow-up question. Which is more important than the card." 

Meredith Vieira found her inner "freakazoid"

Vieira, who is a 14-time Emmy Award-winning host and renowned broadcast journalist took both her career and persona quite seriously. But while on "The View," she oftentimes showed her more playful and silly sides.

As Behar recalled, Vieira once donned a head-to-toe hot-dog costume from and on another occasion, gave actor Wesley Snipes a lap dance on live television. Vieira was also known to stir up eccentric conversations on sex, which earned her the moniker of "freakazoid" amongst her fellow co-hosts.

"I was laughing about the craziest stuff you would do, and I wanted to go, 'Ladies and gentleman, the award-winning journalist Meredith Vieira,'" Jones said jokingly.

 Barbara Walters would pinch Debbie Matenopoulos to keep her in check

Matenopoulos had joined the show at 22, having just graduated from New York University and worked as a production assistant at MTV. Most of her work at that time, was strictly behind the scenes and she recalled that "The View" gig was her first in front of the cameras.

"I remember it all like it was yesterday," Matenopoulos said of the audition process. "I had never been on television before. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I was gonna get this job."

She was invited to audition after meeting a man who worked for Walters' production company, Barwall Production, at her friend's going-away party at Calvin Klein's home in uptown New York City.

"I had pink hair because they had just dyed it pink at MTV for 'House of Style,'" Matenopoulos recalled, never imagining that she'd land the gig. "I go to meet Barbara and Bill [Geddie] with pink hair and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this is gonna be the best cocktail story. I'm gonna tell everyone that I met Barbara Walters.'"

Though memorable, the audition process was also difficult as Matenopoulos faced criticism from older, more experienced women who were also seeking a hot spot on the show. One woman, Matenopoulos recalled, belittled her lack of work experience and described her budding career as a "girl's career."

"And everyone laughed at me. So I turned around to walk out," Matenopoulos continued. "And when I was walking out . . . I opened the door and Barbara was standing there."

Matenopoulos was placed into the first audition group, which consisted of Vieira, Jones and Behar, and instantly had great chemistry with them all. Of course, she was hired and the rest is history.

While co-hosting, Matenopoulos said she was frequently — but discreetly — "punished" by Walters for her poor takes during discussions.

"She would pinch me under the table because I'd be like…So Meredith would say, 'Debbie what do you think?'" Matenopoulos explained. "And I would say, 'Well what I think is –' and I would get into the conversation and for whatever reason, Barbara would not like it and she'd do the church pinch under the table. And I would literally stop speaking mid-sentence as if I had stroked.

"And people in America, on live TV, they're like, 'What? Did she just stroke? God she's a dope. She can't even finish a sentence,'" Matenopoulos said.

Joy Behar was fired not once, but twice

Behar, who was fired back in 2013, was almost fired in 2006 after Walters learned that she had spilled the beans about O'Donnell joining "The View" as a host.

Walters had already warned that the news would be exclusively announced during that year's Emmy Awards. But unfortunately, Behar let the news slip when questioned by Entertainment Tonight, giving them the scoop.

"Phone rings. 'Hello, Joy? It's Barbara,'" Behar recalled the horrifying phone call she eventually got from her boss

One the phone, Walters said, "I just got a call from 'Entertainment Tonight' and guess what they said? They said, 'Oh, and Rosie O'Donnell's coming on the show.' And guess who told them?"

A comedian at heart, Behar pretended to guess Vieira's name, throwing her colleague under the bus.

"[Walters] said, 'No, you! Joy Behar did that. And I want you to know that I'm not renewing your contract,'" Behar recalled. "I said, 'Barbara, it was just a mistake. It was an honest mistake.'"

Walters, however, did not accept the apology and instead, called Behar "a loose cannon."

In the end, things worked out for Behar who continued working as a co-host and is still a member of the show's current panel.

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Joy Saha

Joy Saha is an editorial fellow at Salon, covering Culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.

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