One of America’s most celebrated TV news journalists, Barbara Walters, died Saturday evening in New York at the age of 93.
ABC News correspondent Phil Lipof was in studio to break the news on ABC affiliates late Saturday night.
Walters reinvented television journalism during her five decades in the business. In 1974, she became the first female co-host of an American news program on NBC’s Today (though she had already been doing the job unofficially for a decade); and two years later, ABC Evening News (now World News Tonight) named her the first female co-anchor of a network evening news broadcast. Walters also co-hosted 20/20 for a whopping 25 years (1979-2004) and co-hosted/co-created the trailblazing daytime talk show The View in 1997.
Walters spent a total of 38 years at ABC News and won 12 Emmy awards, 11 of those while at ABC.
Simplest and best tribute to exemplify the Barbara Walters legacy :
On her final show on The View, they just brought one female journalist after another to honour her. All ages, races, from NBC to FOX, to say thank you. She’s completely overwhelmed and touched. pic.twitter.com/923BqlU7CG
— Lucas Meyer (@meyer_lucas) December 31, 2022
In addition to her longtime regular roles on 20/20 and The View, many will remember Walters for her blockbuster interviews with world leaders, entertainment icons and global newsmakers as part of her The Barbara Walters Specials, and her annual The 10 Most Fascinating People series, both of which fall under the BarWall Productions banner. Her 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky about the former White House intern’s affair with then-President Bill Clinton attracted a whopping 74 million total viewers.
Walters also interviewed every U.S. president and first lady from the Nixons to the Obamas. She interviewed President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump before they entered the White House.
The announcement of Walters’ passing comes at an especially difficult time for the ABC News family. Up-and-coming This Week executive producer Dax Tejera died from a heart attack earlier this month just weeks before his 38th birthday.
For Adweek’s TVNewser 15-year anniversary issue in 2019, we caught up with ABC News’ three most recent presidents (prior to Kim Godwin) who worked directly with on the TV news legend (who retired from ABC News full-time in 2014).
David Westin, who ran ABC News from 1997-2010, told Adweek: “Barbara Walters changed television news forever. She took the art of the interview to a whole new level and made it into something that was that rare combination of very compelling, very entertaining, very substantive—and drew really big ratings. It’s reasonably easy to get a big audience by going light. And it’s reasonably easy to do something really serious that nobody wants to watch. When genius happens in television news, it’s when you do both. And Barbara really pioneered that.”
Ben Sherwood, who succeeded Westin as ABC News president and rose to Walt Disney Television boss four years later, added: “Barbara is an unstoppable, irresistible force. One can try to say no. One can try to bargain. One can try to edit! But in the end, Barbara won. Resistance was futile. And let’s face it: Barbara was almost always right! She reigned at the top of TV news—and culture—for more than five decades. It’s hard to fathom making 10 years of professional impact at that level, let alone 20 or 30 years.”
James Goldston, who ran the network’s news division from 2014-2021 after a stint as GMA boss, said: “Barbara’s interviews were defining moments not just in American television, but in history. To miss them risked missing out on what everyone was talking about. A fearless questioner and brilliant producer, she inspired a generation of smart, hard-working and dedicated people to become journalists and set the standard for us in so many ways over the years. The magnitude of her work is unlikely to ever be equaled and will have a lasting impact for generations to come.”
From The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, a longtime friend and colleague of Walters’:
I have sad news to share today. Barbara Walters passed away this evening at her home in New York. pic.twitter.com/fxSyU6BQk4
— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) December 31, 2022
More contemporaries weighed in on Saturday evening:
Barbara Walters was a true trailblazer. Forever grateful for her stellar example and for her friendship. Sending condolences to her daughter and family.🙏🏾 https://t.co/vKjvFJTU6u
— Robin Roberts (@RobinRoberts) December 31, 2022
So often we toss around the words icon, legend, trailblazer – but Barbara Walters was all of these. And perhaps, above all else, Barbara Walters was brave. She paved the way for so many – we learned from her – and remain in awe of her to this day. RIP, Barbara. pic.twitter.com/ovmtCebcGe
— David Muir (@DavidMuir) December 31, 2022
Truly saddened to hear of the passing of Barbara Walters tonight…she shattered glass ceilings and blazed a trail for so many women in television news who would follow her…like me. I will never forget her.
— Elizabeth Vargas (@EVargasTV) December 31, 2022
We have lost a true legend with the passing of Barbara Walters. Such a trail blazer. Such a generous woman – I learned so much from working with her. pic.twitter.com/k9PT6d8Xdz
— Joan Lunden (@JoanLunden) December 31, 2022
#BarbaraWalters was a trailblazer. She was a mentor to me as well as a friend. So many women broke into the news business because she did her job well.
— Maria Shriver (@mariashriver) December 31, 2022
The world of journalism has lost a pillar of professionalism, courage, and integrity. Barbara Walters was a trailblazer and a true pro. She outworked, out-thought, and out-hustled her competitors. She left the world the better for it. She will be deeply missed. RIP
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) December 31, 2022
“Barbara Walters was one of a kind and a self-made woman,” CBS Sunday Morning anchor Jane Pauley said in a statement released Saturday morning. “I inherited her place at the anchor desk on ‘Today’ in 1976, but she was inspiration for an entire generation and called us her legacy. The first and very likely only newswoman whose name everyone knew. Barbara Walters was the Greatest of all Time.”
Finally, some levity to end this post on the legendary life of Barbara Walters: SNL alum Cheri Oteri doing her legendary impression of Walters and making Anderson Cooper lose it during CNN’s New Year’s Eve Live broadcast.