“I promised you if I had anything to announce about my future plans,” Barbara Walters, 83, said today on her ABC program “The View,” “you would hear it first here.”
Well not exactly. News leaked out over the weekend in a continuous onslaught of press releases and news reports that Walters would announce her retirement plans on today’s “The View.”
ABC also released an announcement late yesterday – perhaps to coincide with their Upfront – that until she retires in a year, Walters would continue to anchor specials and appear on “The View,” the weekday talk show she created in 1997 and which she executive produces.
Notables in the television audience of “The View” today were major ABC honchos, including Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company.
To schmaltzy musical accompaniment, it was a trip through memory lane, as clips and footage of highlights from Walters’ career were screened on the program.
Walters’ television career began in 1961, when she was hired for 13 weeks as a writer and on-air reporter for “The Today Show” on NBC, where she remained for 15 years.
“No one was more surprised than I, because I wasn’t beautiful like many of the women on the program before me. I had problems pronouncing my r’s – I still do,” she said. During her time on “The Today Show,” she was able to change the category of the women in that program, who up to that time were called “Today Girls,” to the new title of co-host, a fact of which she said, she was “very proud.”
In 1976, she came to ABC to become the first female anchor on an evening network news program. “It was considered groundbreaking,” Walters said.
She has interviewed perhaps all the major political figures of the past five decades, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. She conducted a joint interview with former enemies Egyptian Anwar Sadat and Israeli’s Menachem Begin. She asked Russia’s Boris Yeltsin if he drank too much and later asked Vladimir Putin if he “ordered anyone to be killed.” Both, predictably, with straight faces, answered “nyet.”
In December 2011, she went to Syria to conduct the only Western television interview with embattled president Bashar al-Assad. “He was not very happy with my interview,” Walters said.
She has also interviewed every President and First Lady, from the Nixons to the Obamas.
For 25 years she also hosted and reported on ABC’s news magazine “20/20,” for which she still feels a “close association.” Her most notable show for many years was the interview program she did with movie stars before the Academy Awards, and a program she is still doing, called “The Ten Most Fascinating People of the Year.” Walters is most famous for interviewing famous movie stars, from Bette Davis to Angelina Jolie, from Clint Eastwood to “the two Toms, Hanks and Cruise, and so many others.” And she could always make them cry.
Surprisingly, she added that probably the most famous interview she conducted was with Monica Lewinsky in March 1999. “It remains the most watched interview in television history,” Walters said in the voiceover clip.
In 1997 she created “The View,” which celebrates its 17th anniversary this fall. She has been, she said, on television continuously for over 50 years.
In the summer of 2014, a year from now, she said, “I plan to retire from appearing on television at all. It has been an absolutely joyful, rewarding, challenging, fascinating and occasionally bumpy ride, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
She added, “I’m perfectly healthy. This is my decision. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and this is what I want to do. I will, however, continue as co-executive producer of ‘The View’ with Bill Geddie (co-partner), as long as the program is aired. There will be special occasions, and I will come back. I’m not walking into the sunset. But I don’t want to appear on another program. I don’t want to climb another mountain.”
She also added that she wanted to “admire the very gifted women – and okay, some men, too – who will be taking my place.”
From the stage Walters asked Disney CEO Iger, who has announced he will retire in 2015, “What will we do?”
“The two of us love to dance,” said Iger, who used the words “trailblazer,” “innovator,” “superstar” and “singular” in paying tribute to Walters. He replied, “I say we go on ‘Dancing With the Stars’.”
New York mayor Mike Bloomberg also made an appearance on the show today. “I was in the area, and you’re my idol,” he explained. “You made a difference in how journalism and, particularly, television journalism is today,” the mayor said. “You asked the tough questions, but in a nice way.”
Walters reminded the audience she still had another year to go, “And you won’t believe what they have in store for me.”