Whoopi joins `View'; and it's plugs `n' hugs

Tuesday, Whoopi Goldberg assumed the Your Name Here spot in the forever-rotating coffee klatch known as "The View."

Ostensibly, "The View's" premise, as it launches its 11th season, is that four disparate women can get along while openly discussing anything. It's a vertical slumber party in cashmere.

As history shows, that's as much fantasy as tasty nonfat cake.

The show's benchmarks have been catfights and lightning-rod personalities, primarily dim-bulb Debbie Matenopoulos, argument-addicted Rosie O'Donnell, and shrinking Star Jones Reynolds, whose love of free product placement was equaled only by her obfuscation regarding weight loss.

On television, as in life, there is nothing quite as snooze-inducing as four people locked in incessant agreement for an entire hour of talk.

Which, at least Tuesday, was entirely the case.

The show, co-starring Barbara Walters (also an executive producer), Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, might as well be named The Prattle, periodically interrupted by commercials for an endless parade of soaps and sprays of all kinds (nose, floor, bath).

Religion, complex social issues and politics - Rosie's frequent minefield - were avoided, though the last was embraced by guest Danny DeVito in free-form Bush bashing when he wasn't promoting various products.

Breasts, eggs (that is, Whoopi's remaining frozen one), affairs, Sen. Larry Craig's bathroom tap dancing, Leona Helmsley's lucky dog, and Michael Vick's not-so-lucky ones were all fodder, with Whoopi dipping her dreads into possible controversy only when citing that Vick came from a culture ("Southern") where dog fighting (and killing) is more readily accepted.

Hasselbeck, Rosie's former Whac-a-Mole married to an NFL quarterback herself (though hubby Tim was released last week by the New York Giants), quickly finessed potential discord into a chorus of numbing harmony.

The show became a soft landing, a quiet entry, Whoopi returning to her former position of center square.

Whoopi's appeal is her considerable talent matched with consistent candor and embrace of culture high and low. It's her "realness" fans respond to, beginning with an unwillingness to endure the blanding, Cuisinart-like style makeovers to which even Ellen DeGeneres and no-shrinking-violet Rosie have succumbed.

Indeed, the most shocking turn of events Tuesday was Whoopi's choice to wear glasses below an entirely non-Botoxed forehead, perhaps a first on contemporary television.

The problem, though, is that "The View" gives the lie to women's empowerment or social advancement, a dial back to the days of Virginia Graham's "Girl Talk," which aired in the mid-'60s when women were still girls. At least on "The View," to use Graham's parlance, the gals can wear slacks.

The show is devoid of Oprah's quest for spiritual improvement and overarching goodness, or Ellen's goofy love of entertainment. It's the estrogen version of "Live With Regis and Kelly." (Regis is scheduled to appear Thursday.)

The problem is, there already is a "Live With Regis and Kelly," which, to my mind, is problem enough.

DeVito was booked for potential buzz appeal, a sequel to his November appearance when he was allegedly addled by six late-night limoncellos with George Clooney. ("The View" can't land the likes of Clooney.) The actor quickly put the "controversy" to rest, claiming to have been punch-drunk from lack of sleep. Then he pulled, I kid not, a bottle of Danny DeVito's Premium Limoncello (on shelves later this month) from his pants while shamelessly promoting his Miami Beach restaurant and FX television show "It's Always Sunny in Some Pennsylvania City Ninety Miles to the South," rendering the program a soft-focus QVC. Even the ever-gracious Barbara seemed annoyed.

The show is a plugfest.

In Philadelphia, as in most Eastern markets, "The View" airs at 11 a.m. Who, precisely, watches television at this hour? Aren't women busy doing more interesting things like working, raising children or livestock, using all those advertised soaps and sprays, or painting their nails? Though the truth is that "The View," weak on visuals, works as well as radio. Perhaps it's being utilized as feminized Muzak.

With luck, Whoopi will develop more depth as the mornings progress. We say this charitably, given that in her introductory video bio Tuesday, she described her birth name as "unspeakable ... a Tupperware lady name."

Her given name is Caryn.

Still, we won't be watching. Like most American women, we've got other things to do.


Karen Heller is a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at the Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or send e-mail to