It's been quite a season for "The View," a show that went from yappy, irrelevant punch line to must-see TV (even if your "TV" happens to resemble a computer). As has been eloquently pointed out by my colleague Rebecca Traister, "These ladies are a regular 'McNeil-Lehrer NewsHour' for the late-morning set, with [Elisabeth] Hasselbeck as the benighted Republican bugaboo." It's been nothing less than thrilling to watch the electricity of their political arguments, which mirror the country's water-cooler conversation without the smug and easy vilifying made possible by sharing a conversation with people who think exactly the same as you do. "The View" has been the recent subject of great (and mediocre) parody. And New York Times columnist Frank Rich went so far as to call "View" co-host (and "Larry King Live" regular) Joy Behar "the new Edward R. Murrow." (And, by the way, Frank Rich went too far.)
All of which explains why I am sitting in front of my television on the most fateful day of the year (decade? century?), watching "The View."
The show begins in a slump. Here they are, once again -- minus Barbara Walters, who has gone to vote and reported from the front lines that one of the machines has already broken down! -- and the air seems to have left the room. In other parts of America, the day is crackling with energy, anxiety, hope. But in this crowded New York studio, it looks like a cocktail debate that has dragged on far too long, snaked around the same old arguments time and again, and the only thing left for the participants to do is go home and pass out. (All quotes were typed in real time as the show aired and may be slightly paraphrased.)
"What about Barack Obama?" Hasselbeck says at one point during the "Hot Topics" opening segment, launching into one of her well-worn talking points about campaign finance.
Behar drops her head in her hands. "Isn't it over yet?" she moans.
The audience applauds.
But it isn't over yet, America. It's isn't! Stop your gloating already. No victors have been declared in this long battle. And sugar, Hasselbeck is going down swinging. "He's not my president yet," she spits, "and I can fight till the very end."
Whoopi Goldberg adjusts her seat, distracted. "We got it."
And for a moment, I thought that was it. No more fight in them. Too pooped to pop. An I.M. from my buddy Rebecca Traister pops up on the screen: "How's the view?" she asks. I write back: "Kind of boring, actually."
But then -- but then! -- the old fire returns. A tiny flicker of a flame: Hasselbeck mentions the Rev. Wright, refers angrily to her notes, starts sparring with Sherri Sheperd, spouting out stale Republican lines. Behar takes the bait, launching into a loud diatribe about how she, as a white woman, has no idea what's going on in a black church and doesn't pretend to know.
But then Hasselbeck says those magic words: "Goddamn America!" she repeats, as though the words themselves might turn her to sand.
And here comes Goldberg, guns blazing: "I have been guilty of saying 'Goddamn America!" she hollers. "We have not always put our best foot forward in this country! It is his right to be angry!"
Oh, oh, oh, and from there, it just doesn't stop. Hasselbeck is backed into a corner, and she is snapping like a pit bull. Ayers! Wright! Integrity! Tuh-tuh-taxes!
"A lot of people sat there for eight years while Bush committed his little atrocities," says Goldberg, calmly. And by the way, have I told you yet that I heart Whoopi Goldberg?
"I'm so tired of doing the tit for tat," Sheperd tells Hasselbeck. "You have a man who left his disfigured wife for Cindy McCain. Where is the integrity?"
Hasselbeck, at this point, looks like she might burst into tears.
The argument keeps unspooling: The Catholic Church, Jerry Falwell, 9/11, civil rights, the history of race. It could go on all day!
"We said we were going to leave right now, which is what we're going to do," says Goldberg, shaking her dreads. "Hot flashes isn't even the way to describe it!"
Cut to a commercial break.
"OMG," I write to Rebecca, "view just went insane. They all went insane."
"Awesome," she writes. And then again, "awesome." And this is the kind of exchange for which Rebecca and I make the big bucks.
Roughly two minutes later, back at ABC, it's as though the blowup never happened. The ladies joke, unruffled, about a new Web site you can use to find the cleanest bathrooms: sitorsquat.com.
"A good bathroom is always something we're looking for," says Goldberg. And really, who can argue with her there?
Dennis Hopper comes on to promote his new TV show, "Crash," announcing that he's voting Democratic for the first time. Country star Brad Paisley comes on, bizarrely not announcing who he's voting for, but wearing a shirt that reads, "Make good choices today." (Everyone gets a free CD! Woo-hoo!)
At the end of the hour, Goldberg signs us out: "Vote. Don't wear a button or any of those things. Take a little time. Enjoy your view."
And there you have it, folks. Election Day on morning television has come to an end. You should watch it, and as soon as I get the clips, I promise to embed them below.
Now: Who wants to watch some afternoon soaps???