To paraphrase the old Amtrak jingle, there's something about a trainwreck that's magic. And few shows can muster quite the type of disaster television that "The View" can and does provide on a regular basis. So perhaps it was no surprise earlier this week when cohost Sherri Shepherd, who has apparently never seen a globe, declared that she didn't know whether the world was flat or round.
If it were any other show, Shepherd's refusal to pick a side on an issue that was resolved 500 years ago would be a bombshell. But it was just another example of the bottomless capacity of "The View" to take a previously well-liked personality and burn off all of her remaining public goodwill.
It's not absolute: show creator Barbara Walters is mostly just tainted by association, and former cohost Meredith Vieira managed both to enter and leave the show with a respectable broadcast career and a healthy serving of dignity. But when once-likable cohosts fall, they fall hard. Looking at just how hard can only add up to one urgent message: Run, Whoopi. Run as fast as you can.
Before: O'Donnell's show-biz career was on solid ground even before she threw her hat into the daytime TV ring, with a successful standup act and roles in hit films such as "A League Of Their Own," "Sleepless In Seattle" and "The Flintstones." (Also "Exit To Eden," but what can you do?) Then came "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," in all of its Broadway-promoting, koosh-ball-flinging glory, and O'Donnell became a household name. Not only that, her pure-entertainment approach and easy rapport with guests earned her a title placing her in the realm of television nobility: the Queen Of Nice.
After: Maybe it was the fact that "The View" featured (and thrived on) discussion of issues that were more politicized and sensitive, something that (as evidenced by her uncomfortable interview with NRA spokesman Tom Selleck a month after Columbine) occasionally got O'Donnell into trouble even in her regal heyday. But when she replaced Meredith Vieira, O'Donnell's image as the Queen Of Nice was replaced by that of a loudmouthed bully, rankling Asian-Americans, Catholics, billionaire real estate moguls and Clay Aiken fans. But it was her contentious on-air relationship with cohost and political opposite Elisabeth Hasselbeck that proved her undoing. Already on the way out, she went down swinging this past May during her now-infamous on-air j'accuse! with Hasselbeck and left the show a month early. Even many who agreed with O'Donnell felt that it was like swatting a fly with a howitzer.
Before: When Hasselbeck (née Filarski) made her television debut on "Survivor: The Australian Outback," the pioneering reality show's second season, she seemed to be little more than a bald-faced attempt to fill in the "America's sweetheart" position previously held by season one's Colleen Haskell. Little did they realize that Filarsklebeck would see Colleen's squinchy-faced adorableness and raise her a dozen kittens in a basket carried by a dozen puppies, with a side order of never-say-die cheerleader pluck. From her grandpa crush on Rodger Bingham to her cold and exhausted surrender of a balance challenge, she made it through an entire season of "Survivor" without doing a single thing that wasn't thoroughly lovable. Seriously, how was that even possible?
After: Hasselbeck filled the "young woman just starting out" slot vacated by Lisa Ling, though in many ways she more closely resembled its original occupant, the wildly overmatched Debbie Matenopoulos. She quickly settled into a broken-mirror version of her "Survivor" persona, transforming from cute and feisty kid sister to a younger sibling seeking attention by acting out. Her conservative political beliefs should have offered a welcome counterpoint to the more liberal attitudes of the others, but instead she came across as the type of shrill, closed-minded nutjob played for humor by Stephen Colbert, and her arguments with O'Donnell didn't help. In her "Survivor" days, Filarsklebeck once declared in a good-natured pique, "My mom says, 'Elisabeth, keep your mouth shut!' Do I listen? No!" Good advice then. Good advice now.
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings
Before: Shepherd had been kicking around Hollywood for quite some time, developing a respectable career as a funnywoman. In addition to her four seasons on "Less Than Perfect," she appeared on two of the most successful sitcoms of the last 15 years, with a memorables turn as a museum employee on "Friends" and Robert's NYPD partner on "Everybody Loves Raymond." With those two and recurring roles on "The Jamie Foxx Show" and "Suddenly Susan," Shepherd's likely to be a familiar face in syndication for quite some time, and her turn as the wife of conspiracy-spewing crackpot Tracy Jordan on "30 Rock" sets her up for repeat visits to the Emmy-winning show.
After: Well before she officially got the "View" gig, Shepherd sat in as a guest, most notably getting trapped in the middle of May's O'Donnell/Hasselbeck throwdown. While the incident did no one any favors, Shepherd seemed poised to come out of it as unscathed as anyone. Instead, she came on full time on September 10 — that's last week, for those keeping track — and promptly stuck her foot in her mouth. In today's political climate, her disbelief in evolution is one thing. (It shouldn't be, but it is.) Refusing to commit one way or the other on the issue of whether the earth is round or flat? No wonder Tracy Jordan married her.
Before: Like Vieira and Walters, Jones came to "The View" from the news, with onscreen experience as a legal correspondent for Court TV and NBC News and as a legal analyst on "Inside Edition." Somewhere in there came failed courtroom show "Jones & Jury."
After: Where to begin? Jones's fall from grace was arguably set in motion from the start. "Saturday Night Live" liked to lampoon her by having an in-drag Tracy Morgan randomly shout a boastful "Yes, I am a lawyer!" during its parodies of "The View." But even SNL couldn't anticipate her ever-increasing self-involvement, which reached its apex during her engagement and heavily corporate-sponsored wedding. (One of the more surreal sights around this time was Jones inevitably steering her red-carpet award-show interviews towards the subject of her own wedding.) When "The View" let her contract lapse, she burned bridges in an interview with People and was removed from the show immediately. Since then, she's been involved in a career rehabilitation project. Before the trainwreck factory of "The View," she didn't need one.
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