About a month ago, I had the opportunity to be a member of the studio audience at The View. This was the second time I’d been there in that capacity. Both of my visits were an eye-opening experience, and not exactly what I’d expected they would be.
The first time was about 8 years ago, not long after Debbie Matenopolous (or, as my sister calls her, Debbie Snuffleupagus) got the boot. They were in the process of conducting on-air tryouts for various candidates, and the day I was there, Lisa Ling—the gal who ultimately got the job—was in the guest host seat. The big teaser that day was whether or not Lisa would get her bellybutton pierced LIVE on the air. Can’t say the girl wasn’t committed to getting the job.
We arrived early in the morning, at around 9:30am, and were herded up like cattle in the lobby of the studio building. This was pre-9/11, so there wasn’t much in the way of security checks or I.D. confirmation. We flashed our tickets, and got right in. Just as they were about to bring us upstairs to the studio, there was suddenly a bit of commotion. The security guards ordered the audience members to back up and stand against the wall, clearing the way for people to pass us and exit the lobby. When we asked why, we were told matter-of-factly, “There’s a fire in the building. It might be a false alarm, but just in case, we need to evacuate.” Great…but instead of getting us all out of harm’s way, they had us move all the way over so that they could evacuate the “talent” first. Within seconds, the door to the emergency stairway opened, and out flooded a bunch of soap stars from ABC’s All My Children. People were clicking away with their cameras, totally putting aside the fact that we were potentially about to meet a fiery end. Who cares…look, there’s Tyler Matheson!
The ladies from The View also filed past, and the only one who bothered to stop was Meredith Viera. Fresh from the makeup chair, her hair still in rollers, napkins inserted around her collar to protect her clothing from the powder and foundation, she was quite the sight. And yet, ever the journalist, she stopped short and said, “Hey! You guys! Didn’t you hear, there might be a fire in the building. You need to get out of here!” We told her that they said they’d move us out soon, and she reluctantly went on her way. She was never my favorite on that show, until that moment. The other hosts hurried by us with nary a word. At least Meredith showed some compassion and caring.
Fortunately, it was a false alarm, and before long we were ushered upstairs to the studio. After a brief “audience warm-up” session with a female comedian (she was pretty good), the show began. Lisa Ling did well, and when the results of the internet poll revealed that the majority of viewers DID want to see her get her bellybutton pierced, they laid her out on a stretcher and went to it. Her mother was there, holding her hand for support, and she made it through like a trooper.
At the end of the show, they announced that everyone in the audience would be getting a free gift: a jar of Patsy’s Marinara Sauce, from the famous Patsy’s restaurant in NYC. It was purported to be Frank Sinatra’s favorite pasta place, and we were just excited to be getting some sort of “parting gift” after the debacle in the lobby. They started giving out the jars, and ordered us to “keep passing them down the row” because there was plenty to go around. Stupidly, we obeyed their instructions. Sure enough, they ran out when it got to us, so we walked away empty-handed. My friends that were there with me that day still haven’t quite gotten over the injustice of it all.
So, this most recent trip to The View was eagerly anticipated, especially now that Rosie O’Donnell, the Queen of Audience Giveaways, was in the house. It was a freezing cold, blustery winter’s day in NYC, but they kept us all waiting outside for more than 45 minutes. When they finally did let us enter the lobby, they did it in small groups so as not to overwhelm the security checkpoint. Our pocketbooks were searched, and we had to walk through metal detectors, just like at the airport. We were given little index cards with numbers on them, but there didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to the order. We were one of the first to get in line, yet had some of the highest numbers. Weird.
Once inside, we stood around in a cramped hallway, while harried interns skittered around with clipboards, trying to look busy. Then, the warm-up comedian (a guy this time) came down and started yelling at us to listen up. He warned that he had a sore throat, and that he didn’t want to have to raise his voice, and then he proceeded to yell some more. He said that if we had any gifts for the co-hosts, or any items we wanted signed, he would be around to collect them. He stressed that the ONLY items that would be signed were books written by the co-hosts, and anything purchased from one of Rosie’s charities.
I was excited, because I had brought along a book with me that was very special. It was a first-edition of Barbara Walters’ book, How to Talk to Practically Anyone About Practically Anything. I’d read it in high school, and it changed my life. It encouraged me to pursue a career in journalism, which I did, and I still use many of the interview tips that I learned from that book. It’s no longer in print, but I was able to find it several years ago on eBay, and was very happy to think that I would finally have a chance to have Barbara autograph it.
Alas, when the guy finally got to me, he took one look at the book and said, “Oh, no, I can only take Rosie’s book or Joy’s children’s book.” I couldn’t believe I’d come this far, only to be rejected. I said, “But, but, I wrote her a letter and everything,” and he got really nasty with me and said, “Oh yeah, that’s a nice attitude. That really makes me want to help you out.” He proceeded to tell us that Rosie’s the only one who looks at the stuff that gets sent backstage, and that’s just how it is. (He sure did snap up all the gifts people had, though.) One woman standing next to me brought handmade jewelry for each of the co-hosts, and he gathered them up without a second thought. Hmm.
Fortunately, enough people around me spoke up and objected, and guilted the guy into at least taking my letter with him. I figured it would probably end up in the trash, but prayed that somehow Rosie would see it and pass it on to Barbara.
After a short elevator ride up to the studio (they called us up by number), we were seated. We ended up in the very last row at the top of the center section. Holy Nosebleed Seats, Batman. On each of our chairs was a red messenger bag that said “The View” on it. They also handed us each a bottle of fruit punch and a snack-sized bag of Keebler cookies on the way in, so already, I’d made out better than my first visit 8 years ago.
It was just a few minutes to air time, when out of nowhere, Mr. Personality (the warmup guy) came up behind me, talking really fast. His demeanor this time was totally different. “Okay, here’s the deal. You still have that book?” I nodded and started taking it out of my bag. “No!” he admonished, “Hide it!! Don’t take it out until I say!!” He proceeded to tell me that Rosie had read my letter, and was so touched by it, she’d come up with a plan to get my book signed. I wasn’t quite sure why I needed a “plan”, but at that point, I was all ears. He said that during the first commercial break, Rosie would approach the audience and ask if anyone had any questions, and that was my cue to raise my hand. She’d call on me, and I was to tell her that I had a book that needed signing, and mention some of the stuff I said in my letter (about how the book inspired me, etc.) Okay, got it. “Cool,” said Mr. Personality as he turned to leave, “and just so you know…this is a first. This doesn’t happen!” I started to get the feeling that no one dares ask Barbara for anything…EVER. Apparently–with some help from Rosie–that was about to change.
The show began, and during the first commercial break, I raised my hand. As planned, Rosie looked right up in my direction and called on me first. I told her I had a great book with me that I’d love to have signed, and she said, “Oh, a book did you say? Hmm, I wonder what book it could be?” An intern materialized to my right, snatched the book away, and ran down to the stage with it. I said, “It’s the best book I ever read, and it changed my life,” and Rosie said, “Oh, really? My, that must be some book! Let’s see, and the name of it is…” and she read it out loud. Barbara barely looked up. She was busy getting her hair and makeup tended to during the break. The book was placed in front of her and she signed it without looking in my direction. Rosie asked me for my name, so that Barbara could personalize it, and after a brief round of applause, my book was returned to me by the intern. And that was that.
The autograph says, “To Lisa, Here’s to better conversations. Love, Barbara Walters.” I don’t care if she signed it under duress, and if she barely knows I exist…it was a still a thrill.
A lot has been said about Rosie O’Donnell of late, and many people have criticized her for being so outspoken and critical of various public figures. All I can tell you about her is what I observed that day. She was, by far, the nicest and friendliest of all the co-hosts at The View. At every commercial break, she got up out of her seat and interacted with the audience, fielding questions and making jokes. She seemed totally at ease, and acted exactly the same on-camera as she did when the cameras weren’t rolling. Elizabeth and Joy talked to one another during the breaks, and Barbara was busy reviewing her notes (ever the professional), but Rosie acknowledged the audience and made everyone feel welcome. Even though she’s the newest member of The View, she certainly seemed to be the one in charge.
There were no big giveaways that day. We ended up with $50 in gift cards to Walgreen’s. Not mind-blowing, but not too shabby either.