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Judge Whoopi

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Television has not been very good for Whoopi Goldberg, whose appointment as moderator on ABC's "The View " was announced Wednesday. As bright as her track record has been in films and theatre, her TV C.V. is littered with failed sitcoms ("Baghdad Café" on CBS in 1990; "Whoopi" on NBC, 2003). A syndicated late-night talk show, "The Whoopi Goldberg Show," tanked in 1993. So did her children's show, "Whoopi's Littleburg" (Nickelodeon, 2004). None achieved the stature of her Slim Fast commercials.

When some people thought most about Whoopi on TV was at Oscar time. They were afraid she would be picked again to host the snoozefest. Whoopi was a film industry tradition, dating back to 1994. She also hosted in 1996, 1999, and 2002. Hollywood likes sequels.

Oscar night was a chance to see Whoopi's zany side, appearing once in white face, or an ante-bellum costume satirizing her support for some costume drama.

Those who didn't appreciate Whoopi's Oscar turns thought she had too many inside jokes, which left outsiders wondering what she was laughing at. Whoopi's thing was to laugh too much at her own jokes.

I'm not sure why some people were so ambivalent about Whoopi. Some thought she made too many faces. Some thought she should do something about her hair. Others didn't like her lack of eyebrows or her smug quality or her politics. She had a mind of her own, and wasn't fond of Pres. Bush or his Iraq War.

Clearly, Barbara Walters disagreed with her naysayers.

At 52, Whoopi is now getting a chance to rehabilitate her career on what is the most important program on morning TV.

"The View," owned and co-executive produced by Barbara Walters for the last ten years, is the Supreme Court of daytime television. The regulars on the panel are like the justices of the court, handing down opinions on the day's news, large and small.

A disconcerting number of intelligent women stuck at home in the baby-raising years, unemployed men and women executives waiting for job openings get their opinions from the show. They could be tuned to C-SPAN where you can see the famous and infamous giving self-incriminating evidence all day. But they prefer watching Chief Justice Walters and her panel of associate justices meting out their considered, or even unconsidered, opinions every morning.

The level of stupidity has reached a crisis point on TV. While "The View" is not in the same league as Bill Moyers, it is not as stupid as "Entertainment Tonight," considered a hard news show by many.

"The View" is where newsmakers are examined and tried by the panel of justices. Donald Trump, for example, was tried in the court's sessions last season and found guilty on all counts.

Not only do stay-at-homes get their opinions from "The View," they talk back. "The View" has been practicing interactive communication long before they had interactive communication.

For ten years, opinionated people at home have been fired up by Barbara and her Supremes. From their ironing boards or vacuum cleaners or Barca Loungers, the serious "View" viewers have been yelling at their sets, the way a previous generation might have yelled at Walter Cronkite telling us that's the way it is. The theory is the louder you yell at the set the more the chance of being heard.

Chief Justice Walters has made a wise choice in giving a seat on the court to Whoopi. She replaces Associate Justice Rosie O'Donnell, who stepped down from the bench at the end of May.

In her tumultuous nine months tenure on the court, Rosie O had many opinions, which, of course, are needed in a supreme court. If you're a justice in a supreme court, however, you don't get in a fight with the lawyers arguing a case before the court. Justice Rosie did that often. Her fights were legendary, including the big blow up with Donald Trump, and with her sister panelist, Justice Hasselbeck of the conservative airhead wing of the court.

Rosie O was not what we would call an acquired taste. She was a train wreck happening before your eyes, but very popular with rubberneckers, the people who cause a five-mile long traffic jam slowing down to look at an accident on the other side of the highway.

Her other crimes on the bench included not being as funny as she was in other venues off the bench.

In appointing Judge Whoopi to her court, Chief Justice Walters was killing two birds with one rock. Although it was not officially announced this way, in practice Whoopi is finally replacing Star Jones in what was formerly known as the Thurgood Marshall seat, as well as filling the Rosie chair.

Star, who represented all the fat and obnoxious members of the home audience, was in charge of freebies. She was legendary in the annals of TV jurisprudence for collecting the swag, the goodies well-wishers in the product placement industry give out to celebrities. Now she is legendary for having her stomach stapled, and losing weight.

Star Jones was an interesting appointment to the court because she was a former prosecutor. This would have been like Harry Truman in 1948 putting Dewey on the other Supreme Court -- no, not Donald Duck's nephew but the New York governor -- or Rudy Giuliani, should he lose in 2008.

Over the years, "The View's" Supreme Court has represented many minority groups, from the Portuguese-American Justice Meredith Vieira to the current Italian -- American Justice Joy Behar. The court would be improved with wider minority representation by increasing the number to nine, reflecting real life, or six, the way it used to be before presidents started packing the court in the last century.

Chief Justice Walters has had a little bit of bad luck selecting her associate justices, but, as she says, every time somebody gets into a fight with her judges, more people watch.

Whatever its shortcoming as a court of public opinion, you have to give Barbara Walters credit. She struck a vein of gold with this talk show which glitters in the vast wasteland that is daytime TV. Barbara has been amazing. She has gone from being the window dressing on the "Today" show, to the secretary of state who sat down with Castro and Sadat, to the attorney-general conducting investigations on "20/20." And now, in her later years, she rules our high court with an iron fist in the velvet glove.

Barbara Walters is a national institution. She knows more about TV than most people running the business today ever knew.