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Credibility a Casualty in ‘View’ Scrap

Jul 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The six-day war between Star Jones Reynolds and Barbara Walters and ABC’s “The View” this summer is over, but its repercussions may continue to be felt in the television industry for some time.

The flap blew up into the hottest story of a torpid summer week, then blew over in terms of ratings for the show. In May, June and July through Tuesday of last week “The View” hovered steadily at about a 2.9 weighted metered market average rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Still, the sting from the way the incident played out could be felt throughout the TV industry, where the manner in which people bow out of big jobs may start to change, insiders said.

And the credibility of the show certainly has taken a hit, industry experts agree.

“All parties involved will always walk a very fine line in terms of credibility with viewers,” said Steve Ridge, executive VP of TV consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates.

Ms. Reynolds’ contract was not renewed, and she and her bosses at “The View” had agreed that she would bow out on-air. But she was not supposed to deliver the news June 27, when she gave public notice in the middle of the show; the announcement was scheduled for two days later.

In ambushing Ms. Walters with her resignation, Ms. Reynolds rendered “The View” a skeleton of its original self. Ms. Walters, “The View’s” mother hen, now faces 50 percent turnover in an ensemble meant to be perceived as straight-shooting group of best friends.

Meredith Vieira left the show to replace Katie Couric on NBC’s “Today” show and will be replaced with Rosie O’Donnell, with whom Ms. Reynolds has had a public feud. Joy Behar is the only original cast member aside from Ms. Walters still on board. Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s seat was previously occupied by Lisa Ling, and before Ms. Ling by Debbie Matenopoulos.

The day after Ms. Reynolds’ surprise, Ms. Walters, who made her name as a truth-seeking journalist, explained on-air that she had agreed to a behind-the-scenes euphemizing of Ms. Reynolds’ status.

“The whole reason for this show to be is this kind of `you and me talking over coffee’ kind of candor,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of TV and pop culture at Syracuse University. “When it turns out that all of that style of confidante and confessional and all of the rest of it is virtually scripted, it pulls the entire reason to be out from under that show.”

The public trust in what is shown on TV already has been chipped away to the extent that “we are in a dangerous state of cynicism that’s almost dysfunctional,” Mr. Thompson said. “It adds to the pile of things that make people cynical about anybody in public life.”

The incident with “The View” could push television professionals throughout the industry to ultimately reconsider the supposedly graceful practice of leave-taking to “pursue other options or to spend more time with their families,”‘ said Bill Carroll, VP of the media buying firm Katz Television Group. “Most of the time it’s code for `they let you go.”‘

“The folks at `The View’ were trying to provide Star Jones with a graceful way out,” he said. “I’ll use a soft word-they fibbed. I don’t know if people will do that again.

“Is there a phoniness to being civil? No, not really,” Mr. Carroll said. “Especially if you’ve already agreed to a cordial way out.”

On the other hand, it gets harder and harder to keep secrets in this era of celebrity-obsessed TV shows, publications and Web sites.

“Lesson No. 1 for any television executive is you’re just never going to get away with this stuff. And I don’t think one should try,” Mr. Thompson said. “You don’t start scripting the way it is and you don’t start giving people lines to read, because they’re just not that good as actors.”

Now the rumors are about possible successors and the guest co-hosts, including pop-TV star Brandy, who have been sitting in Ms. Reynolds’ seat.

If there is one thing from which the TV business can take heart, Mr. Ridge said, it is that “all the commotion [proves that] the power of TV lives on, despite Wall Street’s doom and gloom assessment of its future.”

“When Web star Amanda Congdon leaves Rocketboom, that Web site becomes irrelevant overnight and there is barely a whimper,” he said. “But when Katie Couric leaves the `Today’ show with much fanfare, it remains strong and relevant.”