Barbara Walters still a hot topic

WORK: Barbara Walters, 79, enjoys “View” schedule. "The View" co-hosts, from left, Joy Behar, Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Elisaebeth Hasselbeck and Sherri Shepherd.
WORK: Barbara Walters, 79, enjoys “View” schedule. “The View” co-hosts, from left, Joy Behar, Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Elisaebeth Hasselbeck and Sherri Shepherd.

As readers of this section probably already know, Barbara Walters and her cohorts from ABC’s “The View” are coming to the Walt Disney lot to do a week’s worth of shows starting today. This column spoke with Walters by phone last week and is pleased to report that she’s a great interview. (Are you surprised?)

We’ll get to her answers in just a minute, but first -- er, we’re still having trouble getting over that Hugh Jackman lap dance. Help us, Barbara!

In case you were recently plucked from a mine shaft, at the close of her recent post-Oscars special, the legendary broadcaster got a personal (albeit fully clothed) lap dance from Jackman, the host of this year’s Academy Awards. We’re pretty confident it was fantastic TV but can’t say for sure because when Jackman started shaking his moneymaker, sending Walters into squeals of surprise and delight, we passed out.

The whole stunt was clearly wrong, yet it felt so right. Walters explained that the lap dance wasn’t originally meant to be part of her interview with Jackman but rather just a throwaway she and her producers decided -- in a blinding stroke of genius, we say -- to tack on to the closing credits.

“How many women can say that Hugh Jackman did a lap dance with them, I ask you? The joy of being in television,” Walters said. “I don’t intend to ask anyone to do a lap dance with me, unless you would like to when I’m out in California.”

Well, that would be one way to send “The View’s” ratings through the floor. In its 12th season, the show has averaged a record 4.3 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, thanks in large part to interest before and after the presidential election.

Your guest list during L.A. week is heavy on the Disney-ABC talent, such as Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Kimmel and the men of “Desperate Housewives.” You’ve got some big corporate synergy at work there, don’t you?

We do, but on the other hand, there are some very big guests, some very important guests. Jimmy Kimmel has never been on the show before, or if he has I don’t remember it. It doesn’t matter for us whether they’re Disney or MGM; they’re just very good guests. . . . I don’t think that “The View” has to plug the Disney Corp.; they’re doing OK.

During the presidential campaign last year, the show got a lot of attention with its “Hot Topics” segment, which often found the co-hosts -- you, Whoopi Goldberg, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Joy Behar and Sherri Shepherd -- having on-air political spats that inevitably wound up on YouTube. But how do you keep the interest level up now that the election’s over?

We do more and longer “Hot Topics” this year than we did last year because they are more popular. We seem to be more political. There are very few shows that are as off-the-cuff as this one and so tied to the news as we are. A lot of people, I think, get their news from us. It’s amazing to me, but they do. There are people in the morning, they get the kids off to school, they take a deep breath, they dump the dishes and then they sit down and get their news from us.

All of us are extremely interested in politics, very politically oriented, we have very strong opinions. And there’s so much going on in this country right now, even now after the election. I don’t have to tell you that. I think the whole country is riveted, whether it’s Rush Limbaugh, or whether it’s [President] Obama’s stimulus package or [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner or whatever.

You sometimes seem to get irritated during the segments; I saw you say to Elisabeth the other day, “Can I just finish what I started here?”

That’s all the time. That’s every day; we all do that with each other. I think that’s one of the things that’s great about the show. There are other programs -- many of them, and some of them are still on the air -- that have tried to do “Hot Topics.” They think if you have one black, one comedian, one older person, one conservative, you’ll have a show. We’ve been enormously fortunate that whatever this word is that’s overused -- chemistry -- it works. We genuinely, genuinely like each other. It is a bore to say that, but we do.

I think Elisabeth is so essential to the show. But you know, Elisabeth talks very quickly and she’s very well informed. And sometimes you have to say, “Let me talk.” That is somewhat the result of having five women with strong opinions. What we don’t do as much as we used to -- it used to drive me bats -- is talk over each other.

Last week, when the show had the openly lesbian MSNBC host Rachel Maddow as a guest, you made a joke about Whoopi coming out of the closet, and Whoopi deadpanned, “Please -- that door’s been open for years.” What the heck?

I caught that myself! This was not her way of saying she’s a lesbian. She’s been open about herself and her life for years: She meant it that way.

Last fall, when she was about to do her NBC variety show, former co-host Rosie O’Donnell said “there was not a lot of camaraderie” on the set of “The View,” which prompted an on-air response from you. Your thoughts now?

I can never be mad at Rosie. I just saw her; she was doing a reading of a one-man play that Nora Ephron had written, and I went backstage and gave her a hug.

Rosie was so used to doing a show on her own that, as I said at the time to someone, “It was like Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Rosie was Diana Ross.” Rosie would have been just as happy doing the show with two people behind her, or no one behind her. But all of us are better together than we are, in general, separately.

The paperback of your memoir “Audition” comes out in May. Were you surprised by the reaction to the book, in particular to your revelation that you had an affair with then-U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke?

Oprah [Winfrey] was the one who brought it up. And I was just appalled, because [the part about the affair] was six pages out of 600!

But then I thought, it got the book off to a rather bombastic start. It sold 600,000 copies in the first 10 days; it was just huge.

You’re 79 now. Any plans to slow down on “The View?”

Well, I don’t do it every day. I could pull back to nothing? But it’s something I enjoy doing. The audience seems to think that I add something.