Yesterday morning, the atmosphere outside the ABC studio on West 66th Street—where “The View” is taped—felt a bit like airport security line meets sorority reunion meets revivalist church. Women of all ages and races and sizes swarmed the sidewalk, clasping each others’ hands and hooting their anticipatory excitement. As the line snaked inside, the fervor mounted. “I can’t wait to see Barbara,” one middle-aged woman declared, gazing up at a life-sized poster of the “View” hosts that consumed one wall. “I’m more excited for Whoopi,” said another. But there was one name that stirred up more ambivalence: celebrity guest Joe Biden.
Biden had been on a mini-publicity tour in the past few days to promote Obamacare ahead of the March 31 enrollment deadline. The previous evening he’d gone on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” and his “View” appearance, his fourth one since 2010, had been energetically publicized by ABC. But most of the crowd gathered at the studio yesterday hadn’t come to see the veep. They were diehard “View” fans who’d entered the ticket lottery months in advance and had no idea who the guest would be until a few days beforehand. “When I found out it would be Biden, I thought, ‘Well, at least it’s somebody,’” recalled 69-year-old Mary Ellen from Allentown, PA. “It could’ve been some singer I’ve never heard of. At another taping I went to, it was Avril Lavigne.”
Others were even more skeptical. “To be honest, I was more excited that Nene Leakes was here on Friday,” one twentysomething woman said. Two friends named Lori and Patty, both wearing spangled sweatshirts, had taken the train in from New Jersey for the occasion and were thrilled at the prospect of winning free gifts. Less so about Biden.
“I’d rather see Jon Bon Jovi,” said Patty.
“Ben Affleck,” said Lori.
“Ozzy Osborne,” said Patty.
“What?” said Lori.
Then they both agreed that Adam Levine would be ideal.
Finally, an ABC rep with a clipboard and headset cleared her throat. “Welcome to ‘The View!’” she yelled. “Who’s excited to see the vice president??”
A live taping of “The View,” with its sunny lighting and bouncy music, is nothing if not a well-oiled enthusiasm machine. On this particular day each member of the audience received the following free things: one bottle of apple juice, one large bag of barbecue-flavored sweet potato chips, one Blu-ray DVD of Nebraska. Before long, any skepticism about the guest seemed to have been banished. Waiting for taping to begin, women snapped photos of each other and powdered their foreheads in case the TV screen caught a glimpse of their faces. No one paid much attention to the secret service agents stifling yawns against a back wall.
Two ladies to my left leaned in excitedly as I took my seat. “I just wish Biden brought the president!” one of them, a retired nurse named Yvonne, declared. "We're so close we could literally touch them!" said her friend Carol, reaching a hand out toward the set. Then the "View" hype-man took the stage. His name was Tom Kelly, with a puppyish face and a bright purple tie. “Make sure your bags are under your seats, that’ll make you look sexier on camera,” he announced. He looked in my direction and said into the microphone: “Hey you, bigshot reporter taking notes. Make sure the notepad’s not on camera. Actually, keep taking notes, especially if it’s about how sexy I am." Then he asked a woman in the audience where she was from; “Delaware,” she said. “Biden’s state!” Tom crowed. “Did you come here on Amtrak too?”
About twenty minutes to airtime, someone cranked up the volume on the music. It was time, Tom announced, to dance. He grabbed the hands of an older woman in the front row: Rose, wearing a cobalt blue suit with red and white scarves. Alone on stage, Rose gamely commenced swiveling her hips and raising the roof. Tom instructed several women in the front row to bring their knees together lest the cameras catch them at an unseemly angle. “No vagina-clapping at ‘The View’!” he said, opening and closing his legs to the beat of the music. I looked around to see if anyone else found this to be an astounding thing to say, but the ladies were loving it. “I’m doing Kegels right now!” Tom hollered. “Did I mention the vice president is here today?”
“WOOOOO!” said the crowd.
“That was not Joe Biden applause,” Tom said. “That was Dick Cheney applause.”
They tried again. “WOOOOOOOOO!”
“Twenty seconds til we’re on air!” the stage manager called. And then, at last, the show began.
First, Barbara Walters teetered onto the stage in nude-colored heels and gave the room a stately little wave. Her co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Jenny McCarthy, and Sherri Shepherd filed in behind her. They assembled themselves around the table in front of coffee mugs bearing sketches of their faces, and began chatting about the show ahead. “This is the first time I’ve met [Biden],” McCarthy said, “and what a delightful, incredible, sweet man.”
During the commercial break, they made smalltalk with audience members. Tom collected questions for the hosts, such as “Where did Sherri get her shoes?” (Steve Madden) and “Is Whoopi doing anything special for the end of Black History Month?” (“I’m just gonna stay black.”) A long blue sofa glided in from the wings to replace the table and chairs. Tom instructed us not to give the vice president a standing ovation, because of camera angles. And then the commercial break was over and a sliding door on stage left opened and there, looking waxily genial with his immobile hair and sharp blue suit, was Joe Biden.
From the moment he nestled on the couch amid the ladies of “The View,” it was clear that he had won the room. Walters thanked him for bringing her a small going-away present in honor of her departure from the show. “Is it okay if I kiss the vice president to say thank you?” she asked. Biden theatrically obliged. By the time he uttered the words “congressional budget office,” the crowd was too charmed to be bored. “How many of you are single women with children?” he asked, to vigorous nodding all around. “How many of you have 28 year-old kids?” he continued. “Well, I know no one here is old enough to have a daughter who is 28." Sherri Shepherd asked if he had a particular message for women and children. “Thanks for the prompt,” he said with a wink, before launching a plea for mothers to convince their twentysomething kids to sign up through the online marketplace. Then Walters brought up 2016: “I don’t expect you to announce your decision here,” she said, “but if you want to, I wouldn’t object.” After claiming that Hillary wouldn't affect his choice, he took Barbara's hand. “If you stick around,” he said, “I will announce my decision on ‘The View.’” The room howled.
When the camera stopped rolling, Biden grasped the hands of every “View” host, one by one. He posed for a few photos, his arms around the ladies. Then he stepped down from the platform and approached the audience, doling out handshakes and kissing faces. “We love you!” declared a woman in the front row. “I accept!” Biden replied. Rose, of the cobalt blue suit, enfolded him in a crushing hug. He grinned. “Who would like to see vice president Biden run for president?!” yelled Tom, to the biggest “WOOOOOOOO” yet.
The hosts did a second interview, with the actress Kaley Cuoco of “The Big Bang Theory”—though her sweet, perky charisma was, alas, largely overshadowed by her predecessor. And then the audience filed out at last. “What an engaging guy!” exclaimed Yvonne. “Biden is so great!” said Patty and Lori of New Jersey, standing on the sidewalk outside. Rose, meanwhile, was still reeling. She had waited for hours in the stand-by line that morning just to see the vice president. “I got a hug from him,” she marveled after the show. “I’ll never wash this suit.” It was her fifth time in the “View” studio audience. “I just love the spirit of it,” she said. “I think Biden is my favorite guest of all time.”