In September of 1997 I moved to Los Angeles with just over $250 in my bank account. The studio apartment I called home in the heart of Los Feliz was something I had found online and rented site unseen. (I did have my boyfriend drive down the street to make sure it looked “OK” and he deemed it just fine.) I moved with hardly any possessions but a massive amount of gumption. I was running full speed down the hallway of my life after university and theater school and was ready to embrace whatever shape of a career I found.
In the mornings I would sit on the step that separated my bedroom area from the rest of my apartment and watch The View. Not the view of shady Los Feliz outside of my sliding glass door, but The View on TV. In August of 1997 the very first episode of Barbara Walters’ The View aired on ABC and I was completely hooked.
The original co-hosts of The View were Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Joy Behar, and Debbie Matenopoulos. Except for Walters, all of the women were strangers to me. What had me tune in was Matenopoulos. I was fascinated by the idea of a woman around my age, who had graduated from the same college I went to, appearing daily on a talk show and having the same platform as more established personalities. There was a hopeful promise with this casting. Early career success and respect had happened to Matenopoulos. Maybe it could happen to me.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted my career to be, but I felt empowered to aim higher. Matenopoulos had a seat at the table at age 21, so why couldn’t I? Getting my foot in the door was all I needed to do. Every morning I loaded up on coffee, pop culture, topical news, and a dose of seeing “Debbie next to Barbara” inspiration. Then I walked two blocks to Ralph’s grocery store and faxed my resume out, walked the two blocks back to my apartment, and waited for the familiar AOL voice to alert me that I had mail and someone was interested in interviewing me.
Matenopoulos has said landing on The View at age 21 was a life changer. “I didn’t have enough money for the subway, I had to eat SpaghettiOs almost every day and then suddenly I’m on the show.” At 21 I landed an entry level job as a receptionist for a production company with offices at a major studio.
There is this gray area in your early 20s where you want the world to think you know it all, but the reality is you honestly don’t know anything. Barbara Walters introduced Matenopoulos at the start of every show as, “a young woman just starting out.” With that phrase came an easing into the world. Walters seemed to get it, to know women in their 20s needed that bit of handholding.
My generation, the X one, was learning that reality bites and we probably shouldn’t wear flannel and Doc Martens to job interviews. We were climbing out of baby doll dresses and unsure of what to do next. We were looking to women in the generation above ours to show us the way.
As Matenopoulos evolved from a fish out of water into a dabbling journalist, I evolved from an unemployed actress into a woman on a career path. I started shopping in the Spiegel catalog and wearing shoes that didn’t have platform heels. I showed up to work early. I stayed late. I asked for extra tasks to do in between answering phones. A few months into my job I was rewarded with a promotion to an assistant to a creative director, a job I had to build into my receptionist job.
The flaw of Debbie Matenopoulos was she thought she was already the final product as soon as she landed her gig at The View. She didn’t realize she was still a work in progress. Looking back on that year, she mused: “When you’re 21 you think you know everything, right? Or at least I did at 21. It was like I’ve got it figured out. I’m an independent woman.” Two years into the successful show, and seemingly out of nowhere, Matenopoulos found out she was fired. She told a columnist at The Village Voice before the news had been made public and consequently ruffled a few feathers. I sympathized with Matenopoulos as there certainly wasn’t a guide book for what she was going through.
When Lisa Ling was hired to replace Matenopoulos it made another statement to women my age: We still think your generation matters, we still think you have things of value to say. It also implied if Barbara Walters was casting the voice of my generation, she no longer wanted a woman the media had begun to portray as an airhead or ditz. She wanted someone with solid journalism chops. Gen X women were sent a strong message with this switcheroo casting: You may be helped in your career, but you still have to do the work and show up prepared. There is no coasting.
Seeing another 20-something on The View showed our generation and the world that we mattered, we had a voice, we deserved to be a part of the landscape of women having the dialogue. Ling took her role on The View seriously and felt a responsibility to represent Gen X fully. “We care about a lot more than music and fashion. There’s a plethora of things that people of my generation care about. I like to think that we are a show that can bring some of these things to the forefront.”
In 2002 Ling left The View to host National Geographic Explorer and Elisabeth Hasselbeck was hired to take on the young point of view at the table. Hasselbeck remained on the show for over a decade.
Within that decade The View continued to use the seats on the sofa to highlight different kinds of women with different points of view. Rosie O’Donnell joined the show in 2006 for almost one complete season and began an era of volcanic morning dialogue between hosts, most famously between herself and Hasselbeck over politics.
The View is the fourth longest running daytime talk show. In those early years it seemed like it was a priority to highlight young points of view. However not since the first year has there been a cast member hired freshly out of college.
With Barbara Walters announcing her retirement and several other short lived cast members vacating the couch, it’s created a fantastic opportunity for the show. Whoopie Goldberg, who has been the moderator since 2007, will remain; and Rosie O’Donnell is returning. Debbie Matenopoulos, who recently published a cookbook with her family’s Greek recipes, announced she is expecting her first child at the end of the summer. Oh and by the way, she will NOT be returning to co-host The View.
The last couple of years I have tuned out of the show because there have been too many personalities and not enough substance. The show was always at its best when there was a young and fresh point of view, and right now that means someone from Gen Z (AKA: someone born after 1990) needs to join the show. While The View continues their casting search, I hope they are looking at 20-something women and keeping an open mind.
I learned a great deal by having the start of my career happen the same time as the launch of The View. Watching Debbie Matenopoulos struggle on the show as she worked to express her opinions made me realize how important clear communication is. When the women talked over each other or there was sharp discord, I learned the value of listening. Seeing a co-host clearly unfamiliar with a topic but attempting to debate it anyway made it clear just how valuable reading a newspaper could be.
Gen Y kids just starting their careers can still tune into the show and watch the sparks of five people have daily conversations and learn a lot. Just observing the merging of personalities under the hot lights of a television studio will be eye-opening and reveal ways to navigate dynamics of unfamiliar coworkers. The View was a window looking out into my future life as a professional career-minded woman. Seventeen+ years later, the window is still available for the next generation to look through.More On