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So What Do You Do, Bill Geddie, Executive Producer, The View?

'You build the show around your talent. Anyone who tells you otherwise is making it up'

By Diane Clehane - December 10, 2008

-Photo by ABC/Michael O'Neill
Over the past few years, it's the rare news cycle that doesn't include some story about The View. Between the show's headline-making hirings and firings and the cohosts' political smackdowns of the past election cycle, the 12-year-old daytime chatfest has become appointment television for 'civilians' and media-watchers alike. While Barbara Walters has always been the face and collective voice of the show when the on-air and behind-the-scenes fireworks go into overdrive -- as they did most recently when former co-host Rosie O'Donnell dissed her former boss and the show while doing publicity for her new (now cancelled) NBC variety hour -- executive producer Bill Geddie is the man that quietly and resolutely keeps all the moving parts in working order.

That's not to say Geddie is anyone's 'yes-man.' Whenever Walters asks him about anything, he says, "I tell her what I think -- in the nicest possible way. And she tells me what she thinks. I never have to guess."

It's a winning formula that has been the basis for Geddie's 20-year run as executive producer of The Barbara Walters Specials and The 10 Most Fascinating People (which he also co-writes and directs). He's been with Walters from day one -- Aug. 11, 1997 -- on The View. But to hear Geddie tell it, the whole thing started as a lark. One day he received a call from Phyllis McGrady, who was then working as Walters' producer but was departing for another position. Geddie, who was producing documentaries with former Good Morning America host David Hartman at the time, had worked with McGrady at GMA. Now she was offering him what was, at the time, one of the most sought-after jobs in television. Geddie recalls McGrady told him: "'I want you to go in and say you're every bit the producer I am and that you will take very good care of her. I'm going to hand you the reins of this thing if you want it.'" He didn't hesitate. Says Geddie: "Who wouldn't want The Barbara Walters Specials? I went in and said, 'I'll just do the one. No commitment to do anything beyond that." So Geddie got to work on producing Walters' 50th special, which wound up being a bit more than he bargained for. "What was great was that the special forced me to look at her entire career because [it] highlighted old specials," he says. "We got very close over that time because I had to interview her."

Still, Geddie had no sense the experience was going to amount to the game-changer it turned out to be. "Barbara knew that she could let me go at the end of the special, and I knew that I made [more] money from the special than I did in the entire year of working for David Hartman," he says. "Somewhere in the middle of that special she said, 'What are we doing next?' and I said, ' Well...' and she said, 'You have to start booking now!' So I just kept working on the specials and have ever since."

Name: Bill Geddie
Position: Executive producer, The View and The Barbara Walters Specials
Resume: Has been with Barwall Productions for 20 years. Joined forces with Walters to launch The View in August 1997. Cohosts Barbara Live! ("Although it's not live") with Walters every Monday on Sirius and XM radio. Previously worked as a producer for Good Morning America. Got his start in television as a camera man at ABC affiliate KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City in 1977 and was also responsible for buffing the floors. "I can remember turning off my buffer one evening because I wanted to hear Barbara Walters interview Dolly Parton. She got her guitar out and I thought, I've got to turn the buffer off and hear this."
Birthdate: July 17, 1955
Hometown: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Education: University of Texas ("I call myself a Tex-Okie. If Oklahoma is doing better in football than the University of Texas, I become a Sooner but for the most part, I'm a Longhorn.")

Marital status: Married to Barbara Geddie; two daughters
First section of the Sunday Times: "I like the Book Review because I know I'm never going to read all those books, so it's sort of like the crib notes. I really, really enjoy that. I don't know if it's always the first section I read, but it's the section I savor the most.

Favorite TV show: "I like Mad Men. I'm a little depressed that I have to wait so long to see it again. I don't know what it is -- I think it's because I was the age of [the Draper's] kids. I can remember mixing a drink and bringing it to mommy and daddy and how that world worked. I find watching it almost a haunting experience. The actors are amazing and the scripts are amazing -- it's the best thing since The Sopranos to me."
Guilty pleasure: Bombay Sapphire gin
Last book read: "I read April 1865 and I can't get it out of my head. It's about the last month of the Civil War. I always have a history book that I'm reading. It was phenomenal. I highly recommend it. I'm now reading the new Nelson DeMille book. I go back and forth."

You've been working with Barbara Walters for 20 years. What's the secret to your longevity?
The secret to our longevity is complete honesty. We have a mutual respect for each other. I think a very important part of this is that we're completely different. She helps me see things that I would never have thought of and vice versa. That's a big, big part of our success. I'm this redneck from Oklahoma and she's a fancy uptown lady -- although she wouldn't see herself that way. She sees herself as a regular gal whose father was a [nightclub] impresario, and they had money, and then they didn't have money. Whatever it is, her experiences and my experiences are completely different. It helps us sort out what people want -- and don't want -- to see.

"[Walters and I] have a mommy and daddy relationship with the staff -- the only difference is I'm the mommy and she's the daddy."

People often talk about their "office husbands" and "work wives." Do you ever feel like there's a husband and wife vibe between you?
We have a mommy and daddy relationship with the staff -- the only difference is I'm the mommy and she's the daddy. I have to do it hands-on day in and day out much like, I think, traditionally women have to do with their children. She's the dad that comes in now and then and says, 'I don't like this.' I've always thought of it that way.

That's fascinating. The View is currently in its 12th season. Ever feel like you're going to overdose on estrogen?
I figured what happened for me in a previous life is that I abused women. I have these two Barbaras in my life, my two daughters and these five women. I think it's some sort of penance... No, I don't feel that way. Also, I don't feel like I understand women any better [than] when we started 12 years ago. I am not some miracle worker or Alan Alda or Phil Donahue-type that just has a real sense of what women want. I'm still the same person I was when I started, but I do think I get along very well with women and they respond to that -- but I don't think I have any special insight.

Most executive producers on talk shows have one, maybe two, strong personalities to deal with -- you've got a whole sorority. How do you keep things on an even keel?
Obviously, I'm not very good at that. (Laughs) When was that in the last 12 years?

"I have Barbara Walters and Barbara Walters has my back. At the end of day, one of the most respected women in television is behind me. That makes a huge difference."

One could argue that some of the women lasted a lot longer with you than they would have under somebody else.
I think it's our job to go out there and mix things up. It's supposed to be somewhat volatile. Sometimes in front of the camera bleeds into behind the camera, but for the most part not. I think when you've got the right group of people, it doesn't. I think we have the right group of people right now. They totally get that they can disagree and we're all good citizens at the end of the day. That's a very important part of it. Also, there are a number of things that helped me -- I have Barbara Walters and Barbara Walters has my back. At the end of day, one of the most respected women in television is behind me. That makes a huge difference in all of my dealings.

Secondly, I think the hiring of Whoopi Goldberg was extremely good for everyone. She is a lovely, reasonable person. She is a pleasure to see in the morning. If Whoopi isn't going to be difficult, it's hard for anybody else -- including me -- to be difficult.

So how do you approach working with so many different personalities?
I don't think I have any special skills but I will say this: You treat women differently than men. It's very old-fashioned, but it's true. Not only that, you treat individuals differently. You figure out what it is that makes them tick and what it is they want to hear from you to reassure them. If you have to criticize them, you figure out the right way to do that. There are certain people you can be much more blunt with and there are people you have to take aside and coddle. There's no magic to it. If you know people well enough and they believe that you have their best interest at heart and the show's best interest at heart, then you're fine. If they don't, you're screwed and it doesn't make any difference what you say to them.

I'm sure you remember Dick Clark's attempt to do an all-male version of The View for NBC with Mario Lopez.
That didn't work.

Have you ever considered adding a man to the mix?

Why not?
Because women talk a certain way with other women and they don't talk that way with a man, and it just doesn't work. We have occasionally put a man on just as a 'stunt.' But it never works. It always falls flat. Men don't know how to talk like that, and women don't talk like that with men there. For us it's a no-brainer. It's a women's show, and it's always going to be.

On a recent show Barbara, clearly referring to Rosie O'Donnell's latest comments about being on the show, said, "There are some people who have done this show and then for years feel they have to dump on it." She also said she was hurt by and resented her remarks. What's your take on the whole thing?
I don't want to get into it. I find the more I talk about the show we used to do, the less I focus on how great the show we are currently doing is. I understand in your situation I'd be totally into that, but I just want to focus on the show we're doing.

The show has seemingly become more political over the years and the women have become more and more outspoken. I remember being on the set years ago when ABC standards and practices was calling during the break and told Meredith [Vieira, former co-host] she couldn't say 'vagina.'
That was a funny day. It's interesting that even they have thrown up their hands and said, 'Well, you know... We have to be able to talk about a female body part if we're with a doctor.' It's very interesting how things have gotten both stricter and more laxed. Our show has always pushed the envelope. What's funny is we have always talked politics and about things that people didn't think belonged on a woman's daytime show. One of the reasons we hired a conservative voice in Elizabeth is we felt we weren't getting all the sides out. We've always talked about these things, but it may be that it's more interesting now or maybe we're better at it -- I don't know.

The show does devote a lot more time to the 'Hot Topics' segment now.
Considerably more. With this current group -- for the first time -- we found that we could do an entire show that would rank for us with just the women talking. We often [do] on a Monday -- usually I'll put somebody on at the end [of the show], someone that's 'Hot Topic' worthy. We have discovered more and more that that's what people want to see. We're a little like the late night shows. You know how they keep the comedy going because they're a little afraid the show is over once the guest walks out? We're a little bit like that -- we try to keep the 'Hot Topics' going as long as we possibly can.

You've been in this job for so long and the other job as producer of Barbara's specials for so long -- how do you keep it fresh?
I keep trying to come up with new ideas and things we should talk about and do, but the truth of the matter is you build the show around your talent. Anybody who tells you otherwise is making it up. That's what we do. You try to build a show around them. The changing of people around that table has kept it fresh. Originally there was some concern that this was a freak of nature -- which we just happened to find Meredith, Star and Joy and that was it and it was never going to work with anybody else. The truth of the matter is if you hire right, this will be a franchise. I think it already is a franchise. I think this last round of hiring proved that we're a franchise show.

What would you say you learned early in your career that still holds true today?
(Laughs) They used to say when I was in my first job, 'If you don't like your job, there's a 747 flying overhead full of people that would like it.' That's always stuck with me -- that there's always somebody out there that would drop everything, take less money and work harder to just be in television.

Is it harder to break into the business today on your side of it than it was 20 years ago?
When I started 30 years ago, you could start, like I did, in Oklahoma City and get a camera job in the newsroom, then get a job in Atlanta, then Cleveland and then San Francisco. You could work your way up. There was a time when people moved people in -- they heard about a good person and brought them in. The business doesn't work like that any more. It doesn't pay well enough in many ways -- that's part of the problem. It used to be that those were big jobs that paid better -- now they don't pay as well. They want people to hit the ground running -- they don't want to have to explain where the Lower East Side is. It's a different world. These days, if you want to work in New York or Los Angeles, you've got to pick yourself up and move there and find yourself a job.

When I speak to people about television, I always say there's good news and bad news. The good news is there are more television jobs than ever. The bad news is none of them are worth anything -- not none of them -- but there are so many awful TV jobs because there's so much awful TV, so when you get a good one you hang on to it tooth and nail.

I know you've written movie scripts. Are you keeping a journal so that you could turn your experience at The View into a chick flick one day?
I think that somebody should do that other than me. I'm too close to it. I wrote for a while. I thought I was going to be a screenwriter. The whole process of getting my movie Unforgettable made proved to me that I don't have the patience for it. The problem is you spend years on it, then you go to the theater for a movie that you're cut out of eventually because they don't like writers. Then you sit down and watch this monstrosity and you go, 'Look what they've done! How embarrassing.' When I went to see Unforgettable, on the way out, there was this 18-year-old girl sucking on a cigarette and I walked by and heard her say, 'Who writes shit like this?' (Laughs) I was in a creative coma for two years after that. It proved to me I'm a TV person.

What do you consider your greatest success?
That I've been married 30 years.

And biggest disappointment?
That I thought I would be a famous screenwriter. I'm happy that I'm not now, but it was disappointing to go through it. That moment when I realized I wasn't going to be a big time screenwriter was a big disappointment for me. Then The View came along a year later. When this opportunity came up, I pushed hard for it. It has made a huge difference.

Do you have a motto?
I really like what Reagan kept on his desk -- I'm butchering it -- but it's something like, 'There's no limit what a man can accomplish if he doesn't care who gets the credit.' I really like that and I try to live by it. I don't think it matters who gets the credit. I know this makes me sound more humble than I am -- but I really, really believe that's the truth. I also like 'Tolerance is the suspicion that the other person might be right.' I think about that all time when I'm listening to something that pisses me off.

Diane Clehane is a contributing editor to FishbowlNY and TVNewser. She writes the 'Lunch' column.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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