Today news legend Barbara Walters announced she will be retiring from TV journalism in 2014. Though it will be sad to see her go, it is easy to argue that the 83-year-old woman had one of the best careers in the news industry ever. After all, before Katie, before Diane, before Ann, there was Barbara.
ABC News President Ben Sherwood said no one will ever be able to replace Walters:
There’s only one Barbara Walters. And we look forward to making her final year on television as remarkable, path-breaking, and news-making as Barbara herself. Barbara will always have a home at ABC News, and we look forward to a year befitting her brilliant career, filled with exclusive interviews, great adventures, and indelible memories.
Though the news medium and how it is covered, reported, and absorbed has changed tremendously since Walters started out as a writer for CBS’ The Morning Show in the 1950s, she has managed to not only keep up with the times (she announced she would be making a big announcement today via Twitter) but embrace them (Justin Bieber even hugged her). That is why we would like to salute this amazing woman and take a look back at some of her greatest career moments.
1. She defied expectations from the beginning
She started out writing in the 1950s for CBS’ The Morning Show, and began her on-air career in 1961 at NBC’s Today Show where she eventually became a co-host. This meant she was the first woman to co-anchor a news program.
“No one was more surprised than I,” she says of her on-air career. “I wasn’t beautiful, like many of the women on the program before me [and] I had trouble pronouncing my r’s. I still do!”
2. She is business savvy
Walters very smartly had a family friend in law look at her Today contract and insert that if there should be a change in the host when she worked there, she would inherit the title of co-host. When host Frank McGee died, guess who stepped up to bat?
3. She was the first female co-anchor of an evening news broadcast
In 1976 Walters did something no other woman had ever done before: She became the first woman to co-anchor a television evening news broadcast on any U.S. network for ABC Evening News. Every night she sat down at the news desk with Harry Reasoner, who apparently made it very obvious to anyone with a television that he was not pleased to have to share the screen with a woman.
“From that moment it became co-host for women,” she said. “It was a meaningful event. That made me very proud.”
In 1976 she also was chosen to be the moderator for the final debate between Presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, held at the College of William and Mary.
4. She “got” the unattainable “gets”
When Barbara Walters saw someone she wanted to interview she got them, and no one else could. She was the best. Her most impressive interviews on 20/20 included Fidel Castro, Michael Jackson, Monica Lewinsky, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Christopher Reeves right after his tragic horseback riding accident that would leave him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. She has also interviewed every American President and First Lady since Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat.
“I asked Yeltsin if he drank too much, and I asked Putin if he killed anybody,” Walters said, referring to the two Russian leaders. “Today there are not a lot of heads of state that you’d even want to interview.”
Because she could get such high-profile people in 1993, she started a series called “The Ten Most Fascinating People of the Year” that has become a staple of pop culture.
5. She gave us The View
Though The View gets plenty of criticism (and outright mockery sometimes), the morning talk show featuring five different women from all walks of life was groundbreaking. We had never seen something like this on television when it came along in 1997. And though it has gone through a slew of ups and downs (and different hosts), it has remained a pillar of daytime television. Walters earned two Emmys for her work on The View.
6. She conducted some of the most memorable TV interviews ever
Walters is a great interviewer, though she has been questioned for some of her rather interesting questions. For example, in her 1981 interview with three-time Oscar-winning actress Katherine Hepburn, she asked her what kind of a tree she would be. As you can imagine, it got made fun of quite a lot. But ever the class act, Walters is able to admit the question was a mistake. Watch the clip below:
7. She is going out with a bang
Walters told her co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, after announcing her retirement on today’s The View, “I know it’s time. I want to leave while people are saying, why is she leaving, instead of why doesn’t she leave?” Until next year, she’ll still report for ABC News and anchor her signature specials, including a 20-year retrospective of her “Ten Most Fascinating People” specials in December, an Oscars special, and a May career retrospective.
But Walters is also really looking forward to being retired. “I want to go someplace and actually see it,” she said. “I’ve been to China three times. I hope the Great Wall is still there. I went when Nixon went, but wound up running after him with a tape recorder.”
Walters has said of her retirement, “I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain,” she said. “I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women—and, okay, some men too—who will be taking my place.”
What have you noticed about Barbara Walters’ career that you would apply to your own? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Wonya Lucas, Former President of TV One, if Barbara Walters has made an impression on her own career in TV!