In a career that has spanned five decades, broadcast legend Barbara Walters has at long last said good-bye to the television cameras that have kept her in the forefront of America’s hottest topics. Walters has been called a pioneer for accomplishing what no woman in broadcast media could during a time when the industry was dominated by men. Walters leaves behind a legacy and strong shoulders that women can now stand on.
Just like other significant women in history, Barbara Walters has tread uncharted waters and come through victorious. After humbly starting her career as a news writer at NBC, Walters would later find herself producing and subsequently being thrust in front of the cameras reporting on the “light” stories of the day or reading dog food commercials. Walters became a game-changer in the industry when she was offered a contract for $1 million to take on the unprecedented role of co-anchoring the ABC evening news. Walters would confess in her memoir Audition that she suffered miserably at the hands of her co-anchor Harry Reasoner and became the butt of jokes at the hands of her male counterparts in the news industry.
The Gods would later smile on Walters when ABC commissioned a series of primetime specials to be called The Barbara Walters Special that gave the television journalist a real chance to shine. Moving from behind the anchor desk, Walters got to use her personality and intellect to interview world leaders and show celebrity culture in a way that had never been seen or done before. With her hard work and undeniable talent, Walters blew the hinges off of the old boys’ club and more women poured through the flood gates to take their respective seats at the anchor desk and in front of the camera.
Every woman who now reads a teleprompter or reports from the most remote and dangerous parts of the world owe the opportunity to do what they love to do courtesy of the pioneering and fighting spirit and legacy of 84-year-old Barbara Walters. Oprah would not be Oprah and who knows just how much longer it would have taken before Katie Couric, Robin Roberts, and Connie Chung held a place at the anchor desk. Women working in media today run the gamut from executive producers, camera operators, news directors, and even general managers of news stations. Barbara Walters has also given a variety of women a platform to be heard with her award-winning daytime show The View, which spawned more television female personalities like Joy Behar, Lisa Ling, Elisabeth Hasslebeck, and Sherri Shepherd.
As Barbara Walters enters retirement and looks back on nearly 50 years in television, it is hard to believe the icon will kick up her feet and just watch the sunset. One can assume this is not the last the public will hear from Walters. While she may slow things down just a bit, it is almost for certain that women in media will continue to reap the benefits of her legacy. Do not be surprised if Walters may have just a few more surprises in store and a few more bridges to cross.
Opinion by Hal Banfield