WASHINGTON – Barbara Walters, who in 1976 became the first woman to anchor one of the daily network television news shows, announced late Sunday that she will retire next year.
Walters, 83, began her career in TV journalism in 1961 at NBC’s morning news and entertainment program “The Today Show.” Fifteen years later she moved to rival ABC to co-host the influential “Evening News,” a first for a female journalist.
In recent years Walters has been best known for her role co-hosting “The View,” an informal daytime talk show she created in 1997. The show features a panel of women discussing issues of the day, and has been a must-visit stop for US presidential candidates.
“I am very happy with my decision and look forward to a wonderful and special year ahead both on ‘The View’ and with ABC News,” Walters said in a posting on the the ABC website. “I created ‘The View’ and am delighted it will last beyond my leaving it.”
Over the years Walters has interviewed leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Casto, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Israel’s Menachem Begin, and every US president and first lady since Richard Nixon.
She also made her name interviewing celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and Justin Bieber.
“I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain,” she said in the ABC posting, which appears in the entertainment section under “Celebrities.”
“I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women — and OK, some men too — who will be taking my place.”
She was more direct when speaking about retirement to the New York Times.
“I don’t want to do any more interviews. I don’t want to do any other programs. I’m not joining CNN. This is it,” she told The Times.
Until she retires Walters will continue to anchor and report for ABC News, appear on “The View,” and anchor specials, ABC said.
These include a “20 Years of 10 Most Fascinating People” special in December, a special on the Oscars, and a retrospective on her career.
Walters, however, will remain as executive producer of “The View,” ABC said.
“No one was more surprised than I” about her successful television career, Walters said. “I wasn’t beautiful, like many of the women on the program before me, (and) I had trouble pronouncing my r’s. I still do!”
Walters was famously lampooned for that speech impediment — and her penchant for self promotion — in the late 1970s as “Baba Wawa” by the late comedian Gilda Radner on the show “Saturday Night Live.”
Radner rose to fame for that series of sketches, but it took years for the real Walters to smile at it.
“Years later, when Gilda died, I sent her husband (actor Gene Wilder) a sympathy note and signed it Barbara Wawa,” Walters told the New York Daily News in 2012. “Gilda was so wonderful — the sketch immortalized me — but at the time I wasn’t so thrilled.”
Walters formally announces her retirement on “The View” on Monday.