Joy Behar Working Morning Till Night: HLN Show Adds to Duties on 'The View'

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NEW YORK -- Joy Behar, now getting ready for her prime-time debut, wasn't always a bigmouth star.

There was the time, as a high school English teacher, that she auditioned for the first season of "Saturday Night Live." "I'd be under my covers waiting to hear from them," Behar says. No one called.

There was the time she was doing comedy gigs for 50 bucks a pop and lost her job answering the phones at "Good Morning America": "Maybe the ratings went down and they said, 'Let's fire the receptionist.' "

But she refused to give up: "I was funny in school. I was funny in the classroom. I really got tired of giving it away for free."

No danger of that now. Already a fixture on "The View," where she holds forth in a voice that bellows Brooklyn, Behar is launching a talk show next week on HLN. The 9 p.m. program will test whether her mix of polite badgering, liberal politics and comedic shtick can draw an audience without her bickering sisters.

Could Behar, 65, run out of gas, doing both morning and evening shows? "People say, 'How can you talk all day?' I could do it on the phone or do it on television. A painter paints. I yak yak all day."

For the channel formerly known as CNN's Headline News, the move yields a lineup of three brassy, blunt and opinionated women, with Nancy Grace and Jane Velez-Mitchell already having delivered a ratings boost. HLN, which changed its name in December to signify its evolution from a headline-service format, is averaging 597,000 viewers in prime time this year, up from 506,000 at the same point last year and triple the number five years ago. Opinion sells in cable, as Glenn Beck proved at HLN before launching his Fox News show this year.

Barbara Walters, who hired Behar as an original "View" panelist when the show launched in 1997, first saw her perform at a benefit for Milton Berle, where Behar somehow managed to make Salman Rushdie funny. Walters told her producer to track down "Joy Something-or-other."

"She is fearless. There's an intelligence there as well as the humor," Walters says.

When the gang talks about current events, Behar "is very liberal and pronounced in her political views," Walters says. "So it makes very good copy when she's on with a Republican or anyone from the right."

Behar resists the liberal label, saying a better description is that she is "sympathetic to the downtrodden. I came from a blue-collar family. My grandmother was on relief, as they said in those days." Behar's father drove a truck for Coca-Cola; her mother operated a sewing machine.

But surely she's a big fan of President Obama? "Sometimes he's not liberal enough," Behar complains. "He's been wishy-washy on the public option."

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