Two TV legends, Oprah Winfrey and Larry King, are planning to sign off for the final time. Given their recent ratings, it's probably for the best.
While superstars continue to attract viewers on other networks, the struggles of these megawatt personalities underscore how difficult it is for an individual to command the attention of millions of fans year after year, in good times and bad.
But the news isn't all bad in talk shows. The ensemble cast of ABC's The View is changing daytime TV. Unlike other programs that showcase the talents of one or two mega-stars, The View ushered in a new era where critical issues are discussed and dissected by a panel of contributors. Though rarely seamless, their combined delivery is almost always entertaining.
"We're political, funny and still very smart and extremely relevant," says co-host and co-executive producer Barbara Walters.
If you don't know The View, it boasts superstars in TV news legend Walters and Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy award-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg. Rounding out the cast are comedian Joy Behar, actress Sherri Shepherd and conservative commentator Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Together, they were honored in 2009 with an Emmy for Best Daytime Talk Show Hosts.
For 60 minutes each morning, these women debate everything from major world events to the latest celebrity gossip. When they speak--often over one another or in roundtable interviews--they pull no punches. No topic is too sacred or too sensitive. Instead of cooking tips or fashion makeovers, the hosts of The View tackle everything from the iPhone 4 to torture. And critics and viewers alike love what they do. In 2009 and 2010, ratings climbed to their highest point since the show went on the air in 1997.
So how do five people from different backgrounds, political persuasions and generations collaborate so successfully? They do what a lot of successful sports teams and corporations do: They nurture both individual superstars and the collective team, generating results that neither could achieve on their own. Take Walters, for example. The first female TV news anchor in U.S. history, Walters has interviewed presidents, kings and sheiks ranging from Richard Nixon to Fidel Castro. Her hard-news background lends credibility to The View.
And the others lend it broad relevance. Hasselbeck, for example, is an outspoken critic of left-leaning politics and socially progressive lifestyles. Her presence on the show attracts guests that might otherwise avoid the show. But thanks to her input, The View provides balanced programming, attracting a wider audience.
Each member of the team brings her respective strengths to bear. Behar, for example, conducts most of the guest interviews, while Shepherd provides comic relief in tense moments.
By leveraging the output of its superstar performers and maximizing the contributions of its collective team, The View has bucked the downward trend in daytime viewership. But the work has not been easy. It took years for the show to find the right combination of stars and role players--and a lot of pain, too. Former co-host Rosie O'Donnell quit The View in 2007 after repeatedly sparring with her peers, especially Hasselbeck. A star in her own right, O'Donnell didn't mesh well with the ensemble cast and the show suffered as a result.
Since the O'Donnell debacle, the show's producers have worked to find the right combination of stars to build a truly unique team. The team is now so strong that it now relies less on daily guests, turning instead to the popular -- and intense -- roundtable discussions. By nurturing both individuals and the team, The View has reached more people than ever before. Doing both has not only lifted the fortunes of ABC, but changed the way we see TV.
Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.
Follow Inder Sidhu on Twitter: www.twitter.com/indersidhu