Barbara Walters, creator and co-executive producer of ABC’s talk show “The View,” denied that this week’s heated on-air clash over Iraq between Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck was a ratings stunt.
“Aunt Barbara is back, and there will be peace in the kingdom,” Walters said on Thursday as she returned to the daytime series a day after the emotional on-air exchange between co-hosts O’Donnell and Hasselbeck.
A number of TV commentators have suggested the debate, some of which was shown in split screen, was orchestrated as a May “sweeps” gimmick to boost the program’s ratings.
But Walters said such a notion was “just absurd,” adding, “The highest ratings we’ve had for ‘The View’ this whole year were in February, when there were no feuds.”
O’Donnell was absent from Thursday’s broadcast, fueling speculation that she might leave the show ahead of her previously planned June 21 departure from the series.
But Walters said O’Donnell was merely taking a day off by prior arrangement to celebrate her partner Kelly’s birthday. Friday and next Monday’s shows have already been taped in advance in observance of an extended Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Asked whether O’Donnell might move up her exit date in the aftermath of her latest tiff with Hasselbeck, show spokesman Karl Nilsson said, “I have nothing else to say on that particular matter.”
O’Donnell, known for her unabashedly liberal views, and Hasselbeck, who is a political conservative, have sparred frequently on the show, though they profess to be good friends off camera.
Their exchange on Wednesday, perhaps their most heated, was a continuation of a debate over the Iraq war that began last week when O’Donnell said on the show, “655,000 Iraqi civilians have died. Who are the terrorists?”
Supporters of the U.S. war effort accused O’Donnell of equating American soldiers with terrorists, and Hasselbeck said on Wednesday that O’Donnell should clarify her statement.
In the ensuing shouting match, the two women ended up calling each other “cowardly” before a commercial break ended the confrontation.
O’Donnell surprised viewers last month when she announced on the show that she had decided to end her run as co-host of “The View” when her contract expires in mid-June after just nine months on the air.
But she said then that she planned to return to the show next season for special segments and as a recurring guest host.