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Looking Back at Barbara Walters' Illustrious Career
March 29, 2013  | By Monique Nazareth
 

Television without Barbara Walters seems unimaginable. Yet that’s what will happen if this formidable octogenarian retires, as recently reported, in May 2014. She’s older than any other of the anchors still out there, including Bob Schieffer, Charles Osgood, and Dan Rather. So why does it still seem too soon for her to go?

Barbara Jill Walters was born on September 25, 1929, to Jewish parents in the Boston area. Among other things, her father ran a chain of nightclubs, was a Broadway producer and an entertainment director. Walters was exposed to celebrities from a young age, which was reportedly why she was comfortable around famous people. The family lived in Brookline, MA, then moved to Florida. Later they went back and forth between New York and Florida. 

After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Walters worked briefly at a small advertising agency before getting a job with NBC’s New York affiliate. She eventually moved to writing and booking for the CBS Morning Show. In 1961, she was hired as a writer by the Today show. This led to her becoming the “Today girl.” Though she wasn’t the first, her journalistic sense brought her respect and made her popular among viewers. Yet Frank McGee, then the host of the show, reportedly refused to do joint interviews with Walters unless he got to ask the first four questions. In 1972, she was among the press corps that accompanied President Nixon on his trip to China. Two years later, she officially became the first woman to co-host the Today show.

In 1976 she became the first network anchorwoman, when ABC lured her away from NBC at an unprecedented $1 million annual salary. Despite her acclaim, Walters continued to face problems with male colleagues. ABC Evening News co-anchor Harry Reasoner reportedly disliked sharing the desk with her, a fact he made obvious on camera.   

The Barbara Walters Specials also premiered in 1976. Her first show was with President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn. Walters followed that up with the first joint interview with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. As she got more attention, SNL began poking fun of her with Gilda Radner’s “Baba Wawa.” Critics began to attack her interview style. The evening news ratings dropped, and Walters was out of the co-anchor chair in 1978. 

This didn’t stop Walters from scoring some of the networks’ top interviews. She got the first post- resignation network interview with President Richard Nixon in 1980, as a part time correspondent for 20/20 (David Frost's 1977 interviews with Nixon were syndicated programs). She became co-host of 20/20 in 1984, along with her former Today colleague Hugh Downs. Downs retired in 1999, and a year later, Walters became the highest-paid news host in history, with her new ABC contract worth a reported $12 million a year. By then, she had already created the show with which she will be most associated by a younger generation.

ABC's The View premiered in August 1997. Walters created the show and serves as its executive producer, co-anchor, and, some say, referee. It’s gone through various changes of co-anchors, up to an dincluin recent reports that comedian Joy Behar and former reality star Elisabeth Hasselbeck would be leaving the show. Love it or hate it, the show changed daytime television. Other networks have tried their own versions of The View, but so far nothing has come close. 

 
 
 
 
 
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