“She’s not Charles Manson, OK?” Behar declared during Wednesday’s “Hot Topics” segment on the turmoil-plagued ABC daytime program. “She just has some email issues.”
Behar generously laughs when I suggest that her epigrammatic line could be the Clinton campaign’s new bumper sticker.
“They’re always after her,” she says about the beleaguered Democratic presidential frontrunner, who has been dangerously losing altitude to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and even undeclared candidate Joe Biden in recent public opinion surveys. “They’re always after the woman. They always out against her. And she always comes out of it.”
The high-spirited, flame-haired Behar has this much in common with candidate Clinton: By virtue of her age and experience, she’s the reigning grande dame.
At 72, Behar is the sole original panelist on the women-oriented show created in 1997 by Barbara Walters, and served in that capacity for 16 of The View’s 18 years on the air.
She left as a regular in 2013, drained by the daily grind and wishing to pursue her standup comedy career.
Now that she’s back in the saddle, with a panel of much-younger, lesser-known female celebrities and moderator Whoopi Goldberg (who didn’t join the show until 2007), Behar naturally finds herself in a leadership role.
“Maybe a little,” she acknowledges, “because I know more than they do about how to run the show, because I did it for 16 years. But I don’t know what my role is. My role is to be Joy. To be my authentic self, as they say.”
Behar was initially reluctant when show consultant Hilary Estey McLoughlin, a veteran of daytime television and a former executive at CBS and Telepictures, broached the idea of a comeback last month.
“I didn’t feel like going back,” she says. “It would be same-old, same-old, and I’d been through it already. But then she said, ‘You could moderate on Fridays if Whoopi doesn’t want to do it, and you only have to do a certain number of shows, and we’re going to put more politics in the show.’ ”
For Behar, the opportunity to run the table and inject serious, news-making issues into a program that in recent years had become mired in forced frivolity was a huge selling point in her decision to make a one-season commitment.
“This was one of my main preoccupations—that we would talk more politics,” she says. “This was going to be a big political year with Donald and Hillary and all these people. It’s just too fascinating for me to be staying home and yelling at my television. I want to be in the middle of it. That’s basically what convinced me more than anything.”
That—and the “Rosie money”? I ask—referring to reports that former moderator Rosie O’Donnell, who left in a blaze of glory in 2007 after tense and abortive contract negotiations, was paid $10 million to return as a panelist to The View for a single season in 2014.
“I can’t talk money. That’s very rude to ask about money. How much do you make then?” Behar chides.
As for rumors of O’Donnell’s astronomical compensation, “Oh, come on! Grow up, Lloyd!” Behar exhorts. “That’s not possible. It’s not true. It’s absolutely not. I happen to know for a fact that it’s not true.”
On a less touchy topic, Behar says she’s enjoying getting into a working rhythm with her fellow cast members, who, in addition to Goldberg (an old friend and like-minded ideological ally), include Good Morning America weekend cohost Paula Faris, Cosby Show veteran Raven-Symoné (both of whom she had been aware of but didn’t know), comedian Michelle Collins (who was a regular guest on Behar’s now-defunct HLN talk show), and Full House child star Candace Cameron Bure (pronounced “boo-ray”), the panel’s designated conservative.
“I had no idea who she was,” Behar says.
Behar says she got along fine with Bure during a spate of publicity interviews pegged to Tuesday’s season premiere, but doesn’t expect to see much of her as The View’s 19th season unfolds.
For one thing, Bure is pretty much off the show for the next three months in order to film episodes of a new Netflix sitcom, Fuller House, a reboot of the late 1980s-early ’90s series, and Behar says she’ll switch off with Bure on the panel after that.
“I’m having fun, to tell you the truth,” Behar says. “I’m in a different head now. I had two years off and it’s a completely different administration, and I’m enjoying myself.”
Behar hopes that The View this season will suffer none of the on-camera and behind-the-scenes turmoil of recent years, a veritable soap opera of catfights and staff shakeups that has made the show so entertaining to read about—but often made for nerve-wracking television and sliding ratings.
“I can’t predict what’s going to happen,” Behar says, “but there should be a better camaraderie now, and the new people in positions of authority there [notably consulting producer Candi Carter and longtime David Letterman producer Brian Teta] are terrific and smart and I think it’ll work.”
As for periodic press prognoses that The View is headed for the TV scrapheap, “I think the show is going to be fun and smart, and it will probably stay on the air,” Behar insists.
Meanwhile, she was looking forward to interrogating Republican frontrunner Trump, who was scheduled to phone in to Thursday’s program.
“I like Donald Trump—he’s extremely entertaining,” says Behar, who has known the reality TV real estate mogul well enough to have attended his 1993 wedding at the Plaza Hotel to second wife Marla Maples.
“He’s been on The View quite a few times. In our heyday, he came on and I pulled his hair at one point, and Barbara pulled his hair.”
On Thursday’s show, Behar grilled Trump about his Democratic past, his vows to defund Planned Parenthood of taxpayer money and his apparently specious claim that the women’s health organization spends more than 55 percent of its budget on abortions, and scolded him for musing to a Rolling Stone reporter about the alleged lack of voter appeal of rival candidate Carly Fiorina’s face.
“Why don’t you talk about her brain instead of her face?” she demanded. Over the phone, Trump parried: “It’s good to have you back—back where you belong."
And then, of course, there was that titanic, tabloid-ready battle in 2007 involving Trump, O’Donnell, and Walters, in which Trump kept referring to O’Donnell, an out-and-proud lesbian, as “a fat slob” and “a degenerate,” and O’Donnell called Walters, her nominal boss, “a fucking liar” for not offering sufficient support in the daytime TV equivalent of a back-alley mugging.
It was an early warning sign, perhaps, that the show was fraying at the edges.
“Oh that,” Behar ventures, biting her tongue from saying more—other than that she intended to ask candidate Trump intelligent questions about serious issues, a throwback to a time when The View consistently made news and sparked conversation at kitchen tables around the country.
“That’s my goal, and I think that is the goal of the show,” Behar says. “We discuss the news that is shaping the day, and then women everywhere discuss it at home or wherever—because there’s so much more that you can say than you can say in three segments on a television show.”
Behar says she’s energized to arrive at the West Side studio at 8 a.m. every morning, plan the day’s program and go through hair and makeup, do the show live at 11 a.m., participate in a post-mortem with producers and panelists, have lunch with a friend, and then walk home to the Upper West Side apartment she shares with husband Steve Janowitz. “I like walking home. It’s a good way to lose weight,” she says.
As for formulating a smart and witty opinion about everything under the sun, “I don’t find it a heavy lift at all. I watch everything and read everything anyway,” Behar says. “I’ve never been afraid to give my opinions.”
Behar adds that she still keeps in touch with the 85-year-old Walters, who may or may not show up as guest panelist this season.
When Behar’s return was announced last month, “Barbara sent me an email saying, ‘Darling, it’s wonderful!’”