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Lesleyann Coker Headshot

Cheating on Barbara Walters

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I confess. I'm cheating on Barbara Walters.

The other woman in my life -- or should I say women -- are Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.

I feel guilty about this transgression because Barbara has been an important part of my life for over 25 years.

She was my idol growing up. She inspired me to study journalism at USC. I've been lucky enough to meet her three times, and I consider myself a super-fan. I've seen almost every episode of The View since its 1997 debut.

Yet the unexpected pleasure of Kathie Lee and Hoda and their unruly fourth hour of the Today show caused my attention and affection to stray.

As much as it pains me to admit, my passion for The View peaked after the election in 2008. The show has been on a downward spiral ever since. The ladies appear bored and that makes me bored.

Each of the five has become so trite that I know what they are going to say before they say it -- no matter the topic.

Elisabeth is pre-programmed with the day's right-wing talking points; Joy defends the left; Sherri weighs in with something nonsensical; Whoopi bites her lip and stays out of the fray except to every once in awhile roll her eyes at pop culture topics she deems beneath her; and Barbara will talk about Barbara. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It's the template for the show every day.

Kathie Lee and Hoda are spontaneous and unpredictable. Their infectious charm colors everything they do. Whether they're sampling dog food, taking belly dancing lessons, testing their sex IQ, or just chatting, these two know how to keep things fun and entertaining.

The giddy atmosphere, plus the alcohol on hand during Today's fourth hour, is the polar opposite from the uptight and stuffy tone of The View. Can you imagine Barbara Walters eating dog food?

Barbara runs a tight ship. When her ladies step out of line she isn't shy about expressing her displeasure, even on air. When Whoopi and Joy walked off the set during a live interview with a belligerent Bill O'Reilly (good for them for having the courage!), Barbara scolded them for their unprofessionalism.

Most days though, The View ladies walk on eggshells. In theory, five points of view are supposed to be represented. In reality, it's Barbara's view that matters most and the ladies -- and guests -- take turns kissing her ring.

My beloved Barbara has lost her sense of humor. No one can make a joke at her expense without her becoming grumpy.

In direct contrast, Hoda has a wicked sense of humor, and Kathie Lee can take the heat as much as she enjoys dishing it out. After Saturday Night Live aired its infamous sketch of Hoda punching Kathie Lee in the face, Hoda gleefully replayed it over and over in slow motion.

I admit I was never a fan of Kathie Lee during her tenure on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. Her personality struck me as grating and holier-than-thou. I was wrong.

Now, I'm thinking Regis was the problem. His smugness repressed Kathie Lee. During their years together, she was a misunderstood soul lacking the right partner to bounce off her own brand of quirky.

Kathie Lee has blossomed under Hoda's influence. She's charming, funny and self-deprecating, with just the right amount of eccentricity. She's the vivacious, fun-loving friend who can liven up any party while Hoda's the compassionate friend you can always count on. Hoda's the kind of person who will hold and protect her drunken friend's hair while the friend throws up.

Unlike the women on The View whose tolerance for each other varies, Kathie Lee and Hoda display palpable chemistry. Who knew these two would gel so well together? On paper, they are a random pairing, but that randomness works to their advantage.

Nothing is funnier than watching Kathie Lee rib a blushing Hoda about her new boyfriend. Hoda is funny in her own right. I enjoy her iHoda segments where she plays music from her iPod and tries to get Kathie Lee to sing along or better yet, dance.

Real women -- real friends -- act this way. Women want relationships with other women where they feel free to be themselves, be silly and above all, support each other. Do the women of The View even like each other?

The View should regroup. The Today show's fourth hour underwent a makeover when it wasn't clicking. When it premiered, it had more of a news focus and was hosted by Hoda, along with Natalie Morales and Ann Curry.

Barbara should follow Kathie Lee's example and let her softer, more human side come through. This aspect of Barbara's personality was on display during her recent Barbara Walters Special: "A Matter of Life and Death," about open heart surgery. Barbara allowed the cameras to capture her recuperating at home afterward. She was raw, vulnerable and relatable in a way that she isn't on The View.

If Barbara showed this kind of emotion on The View, the other women might feel free to follow suit. If they can stop worrying about pleasing Barbara, their own true multi-faceted selves might emerge. The View should crack open a bottle of figurative wine and see what is uncorked.

The View could have a new energy and vibe to keep pace with Kathie Lee and Hoda. Then again, maybe not. Kathie Lee and Hoda have that special brand of magic that only strikes if you're lucky. Or maybe it's just the alcohol.