Distinctively cool and refined, Barbara Walters' style can be either hard-news driven or downright gossipy. Few have done more to help female journalists tear down the wall between hard news (where women once weren't) and softer features (where they were, albeit infrequently).
In a career that spans four decades, there have been innumerable firsts and TV news coups. She was the first female co-host of NBC's Today
show and the first female co-anchor of a network evening newscast, the ABC Evening News, where she worked alongside the late Harry Reasoner. She was the first woman in TV news to break through the seven-figure salary ceiling.
She also accompanied Richard Nixon when he made his historic visit to China. Walters was the first TV journalist to get Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin together for an interview.
She was the TV journalist who obtained the first extended interview with Monica Lewinsky after the Clinton sex scandal broke. That 1999 interview, which commanded Super Bowl-level advertising rates, is still the highest-rated single news program in history.
Walters was born into show business (her father owned a glamorous New York nightclub and was a theatrical producer), but she worked her way up in the news business. She started out as a local TV news writer and producer before joining Today as a writer. She was promoted to "girl reporter" there in an era when hard news was still generally regarded as men's work. In all, Walters spent 15 years at the NBC morning show.
"God, she's good," the late Roone Arledge, who was then president of ABC News told Time magazine in the mid 1990s long after she left NBC. "She just keeps getting better and better. She has a way that has matured over the years of getting people to say things on the air that they never thought they were going to say."
In September, Barbara Walters will end her 25-year-long association with 20/20, stepping down as co-host and chief correspondent. She will continue her association with the network, however, producing and appearing on specials and on The View, where she is also the executive producer.
She'll leave behind quite a legacy. For actors, the "Walters Interview" has become something of an imprimatur, signifying they have made it to the A-List, and she'll probably keep doing them prior to ABC's annual Oscar telecast. And if you're big enough to be parodied on Saturday Night Live, you're plenty big. Whatever else that kind of notice from SNL implies, it does mean that you have become an American brand.