When Elisabeth Hasselbeck says she’s delighted with her new job on the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends because it’s “such a great working community, no complaints, all smiles,” it’s tempting to think that’s a slighting reference to the last place she worked. That would be the ABC talk show The View, on which the level of snarls and sobs made it seem many days that it could have been retitled Hasselbeck Against The World.
There was the tussle over abortion between Whoopi Goldberg (pro) and Hasselbeck (anti) that ended abruptly when Goldberg snapped, “Back off!” Or the confrontation with comedian Bill Maher, who had made a tasteless joke that Hasselbeck should be shipped to Egypt. Hasselbeck, sarcastically: “I actually feel smarter sitting next to you.” Maher, equally so: “Really? I feel like I’m in high school sitting next to you.” Or a fractious argument over race that improbably ended with Goldberg vehemently defending use of the N-word and Hasselbeck tearfully protesting, “How are we supposed to then move forward if we keep using terms that bring back that pain?”
But that’s the wrong reading, Hasselbeck says. The View, despite the endless speculation to the contrary in the Hollywood tabloids, was a happy set.
“There was many a time that our opinions were not the same,” Hasselbeck says of her View castmates, who at various times over the years included Rosie O’Donnell, Star Jones, Joyce Behar, Sherri Shepherd and Barbara Walters. “But that’s OK. Many times, most of my dearest friends don’t agree with me, or I with them. And why should we have to? ... If you think there were a lot of bad feelings at The View, you would be wrong.”
In any event, Hasselbeck adds, that’s all in her rear-view mirror. On Monday, she joins Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade on the 6-to-9 a.m. Fox & Friends.
A talk show, even an arguably consequential one (Hasselbeck and her co-hosts were named among Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and Forbes magazine’s 30 of the Most Influential Women in Media in 2009), is not the usual way to launch a career in news, especially on the top-rated program in cable news: Fox & Friends has a bigger audience than its competitors on CNN, MSNBC and HLN combined, and in several large markets — including Orlando, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Austin — sometimes even beats CBS This Morning.
But Fox & Friends is less of a news show than a slightly loopy kaffeeklatsch during which an interview with a politician might very well be followed by one with a Hooters waitress, and the hosts sometimes prank one another on air. (The New York Times once referred to departing host Gretchen Carlson, whose slot Hasselbeck is taking, as the show’s “often-severe and incredulous voice of authority.”) It’s managed by the network’s division for opinion and entertainment shows rather than the news bosses.
Hasselbeck concedes that she’s never been a reporter (though she did put some hardball questions about the economy to President Obama when he appeared on The View). “But I’ve been watching Fox & Friends a long time, and I think I’ll fit in,” she says. “I don’t think it’s a hard-news show. It’s like a good-morning wakeup call that happens to tell you what’s going on. I’ve spent the last 10 years talking about the news on The View. I can do this.”
Anyway, nothing else about Hasselbeck’s television career has been typical, either. She was an industrial designer working in the shoe industry — “a shoe nerd working in a cubicle with some Sharpies and a cutting device,” she recalls — who broke into TV in 2001 as a contestant on Survivor.
“I don’t know how it happened, really,” she says of the Survivor gig. “I wasn’t a camper. I was not interested in anything outdoorsy at all. But we had just gotten back from a shoe-industry trip to Germany and one of my colleagues who watched the show suggested it. For some reason — I don’t know if it was a stressful week, or what — it sounded like a good idea.”
Hasselbeck not only made the show but became a fan favorite, finishing fourth. The producers invited her back for Survivor: All Stars in 2003. She declined, but she still talks to them now and then about a return appearance. “I don’t know that I have the courage I did 10 years ago,” she laughs. Her co-hosts, meanwhile, are trying to muster theirs. Broods Doocy: “I hear she’s good with a spear. And that scares me.”