There are some classic screen moments that, no matter how many years go by, never lose their bite. Neo outlasting a multiplying Agent Smith in “The Matrix” or Rocky Balboa’s final showdown with Apollo Creed, for example. They stop the world every time we watch them.
Daytime TV has one of those, too. A two-hander that’s an even more exhilarating and contentious battle royale. On May 23, 2007, Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck duked it out on “The View” during a 10-minute bout that should be taught in schools.
Watch it right now. It’ll get your blood pumping faster than Zumba.
Saturday is the unlucky 13th anniversary of that brilliant duel, the grand finale of O’Donnell’s eight rollercoaster months on the all-women talk show, in which she regularly clashed with conservative panelist Hasselbeck and got everybody talking. Adding to the drama, the prickly pair started off as chums.
“Nothing in daytime TV history could have prepared viewers for this breaking point,” writes Ramin Setoodeh in his delicious book “Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside History of ‘The View’”. “Although Rosie had once sworn she would never replicate ‘Jerry Springer,’ she was about to give that show a run for its money.” It was recently announced that “Ladies” will be adapted into a TV miniseries. Praise Barbara!
“The View,” of course, continues to make news for its squabbles on a weekly basis. Presidents and senators give serious interviews to the cohosts — which now include Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Meghan McCain and Sunny Hostin — and the women often engage in heated political spats.
But none compare to Rosie and Elisabeth.
The confrontation (Setoodeh calls it “doomsday”) began with Behar passionately but harmlessly listing her grievances with President George W. Bush, dotted with quips, and chastising GOP congressmen for defending him during the Iraq War.
Hasselbeck fired back: “They stick by him for not demanding a pullout date for our troops, which is essentially saying to our enemies we don’t have any team out there.”
That’s when O’Donnell saw the whites of her eyes.
“You just said our enemies in Iraq,” O’Donnell chimed in like a sniper. “Did Iraq attack us?”
Hasselbeck quickly clarified what she meant: “Al-Quaeda,” but the damage was done. A tidal wave of emotion took over both women and it became clear that nobody was really talking about politics anymore.
“Let me tell you why I don’t wanna do it,” said O’Donnell of the impending clash. “Because here’s how it gets spun in the media: Rosie — big, fat, lesbian, loud Rosie — attacks innocent, pure, Christian Elisabeth. And I’m not doing it.”
She did it.
The back and forth became so fast and furious, more mean-spirited and personal by the minute, that the salivating producers threw the women on a split-screen — like a nighttime cable news show — and chose not to cut to commercial. Behar and then-guest host Sherri Shepherd tried to douse the flames with jokes, but nothing landed. Except punches.
“I don’t understand how there can be such hurt feelings when all I did was say, ‘Look, why don’t you tell everyone what you said?’ I did that as a friend,” said the secretly potty-mouthed Hasselbeck.
This pushed O’Donnell over the edge. “What you did was not defend me,” she retorted. “I asked you if you believed what the Republican pundits were saying. You said nothing. And that’s cowardly.”
After the show, O’Donnell quit, more than a month before her planned departure.
Now, isn’t that way more fun than celebrities doing karaoke in a midsize sedan? Or reality TV producers encouraging artificial storylines offscreen? It’s definitely better than TikTok.
Live TV, for the most part, has become overly polished and polite — an animatronic ride to pass the time. Hosts will occasionally make an outrageous comment, but that’s merely a character they play. Here, however, were two women losing control to such an extent that they had an out-of-body experience, and wrestled away a tired format from cooking demonstrations and made national headlines with their acid.
As Barbara Walters would almost say: Take a little time to enjoy the coup!