How Barbara Walters, Adweek’s TV News Legend, Changed the Industry ‘Forever’

3 ABC News presidents reflect on her remarkable legacy

Walters co-hosted 20/20 for 25 years. Bob D’Amico
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Barbara Walters reinvented TV news during her five decades in the business. In 1974, she became the first female co-host of an American news program on Today (though she had already been doing the job unofficially for a decade); and two years later, ABC Evening News named her the first female co-anchor of a network evening news broadcast. Walters also co-hosted 20/20 for 25 years and created The View in 1997, but she is best known for her blockbuster interviews with world leaders, entertainment icons and global newsmakers. Her 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky drew a whopping 74 million viewers. ABC News’ three most recent presidents reflected on the TV news legend (who retired in 2014) and her extraordinary legacy.
David Westin (1997-2010):
“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 (2010-2014):
“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 (2014-current):
“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.”

This story first appeared in the Jan. 14, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.