When Rosie O'Donnell joined The View in 2006, it had been four years since she'd been a regular fixture on daytime television.
And if fans of her eponymous talk show were tuning in to see the return of the "Queen of Nice," well, they were in for a rude awakening. The O'Donnell who joined Barbara Walters' ABC gabfest, entering its 10th season at that point, was a far cry from the playful woman who enjoyed propelling koosh balls into the audience. In her place was a much more outspoken, political firebrand; one who wasn't afraid to voice her liberal viewpoint and had no qualms about making enemies in the process.
It made her the frequent target of both conservative media outlets and right-wing pundits, and positioned her—for life, it seems—against the panel's requisite conservative voice, Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Prior to joining The View herself in 2003, Hasselbeck was known for coming in fourth on the second, Australia-set season of Survivor and hosting the Style Network's The Look for Less. But by the time O'Donnell joined her at the table for Hot Topics as the comedian replaced outgoing moderator Meredith Viera in 2006, she'd established herself as the resident right-winger, staunch in her views and steadfast in her defense of them. And though she'd found herself in brief squabbles from time to time, O'Donnell's arrival meant that she had something of a true adversary on set.
And producers—not to mention viewers—ate it up.
O'Donnell's arrival on the long-running series was a ratings boon, allowing The View to buck the overall downward trend for daytime broadcast TV at the time with a marked viewership rise of 27 percent three months into her tenure. It was clear that her adversarial nature—not just with Hasselbeck, but with Donald Trump, the Bush administration, and the Catholic Church—was ratings gold, and she was encouraged by the show's producers to be as outspoken as she like. It often got her into trouble—the racist way in which she imitated Chinese newscasters rightly earned her scorn—and frequently made her working relationship with not only Hasselbeck, but Walters as well (a social acquaintance of Trump who felt caught in the middle when that particular feud erupted), rife with tension. And yet, all parties always seemed able to return to a sense of friendly decorum at the end of the day.
Until, that is, O'Donnell's contract negotiations fell apart and all hell broke loose.
By April 25, 2017—only seven months after joining the show—O'Donnell revealed that her days on The View were numbered. As she and the network were not able to come to terms on a new contract, she explained, she'd be leaving the show when her current deal expired at the end of the season. "It just didn't work," she said on the show, "and that's show biz. But it's not sad because I loved it here and I love you guys and I'm not going away." (ABC wanted to lock her in for three more years, while she was only comfortable re-upping for one.)
Days later, on May 17, the woman who had spent much of her time on the show condemning the Bush administration's policies, especially as they related to the war in Iraq, while floating conspiracy theories about 9/11, asked a rhetorical question that she had to have known would ignite a powder keg.
"655,000 Iraqi civilians dead. Who are the terrorists?" she said. "If you were in Iraq and another country, the United Stated, the richest in the world, invaded your country and killed 655,000 of your citizens, what would you call us?"
By the following Monday, O'Donnell's would be on the defense, bothered that conservative critics had asserted that she'd, in fact, called the troops "terrorists" with her controversial statement. And when she asked Hasselbeck if she thought that O'Donnell believed our soldiers were terrorists, the conservative co-host chose not to answer, instead urging O'Donnell to clarify what she had meant. That Wednesday, while Walters was away, conversation once again turned to the embattled comedian's comments. She seemed reluctant to engage.
"Because here's how it gets spun in the media: 'Rosie, big fat lesbian loud Rosie, attacks innocent pure Christian Elisabeth,'" O'Donnell said, prompting Hasselbeck to call her assessment "unfair."
"I just don't understand why it's my fault if people spin words that you put out there or phrases that suggest things," Hasselbeck added. "And I gave you an opportunity two days ago to clarify the statement that got you in trouble on all those things."
"That got me in trouble?" O'Donnell repeated sarcastically. "As a friend, you gave me the opportunity. That was very sweet of you. I was asking if you, who actually knows me, do you believe I think our troops are terrorists, Elisabeth?"
Hasselbeck initially hesitated to answer, before admitting that she didn't believe O'Donnell thought the troops to be terrorists. But she continued to bring up what O'Donnell had said, prompting further heated back-and-forth between the two as Joy Behar and then-guest co-host Sherri Shepherd followed along, uncomfortably.
As the producers switched to split-screen, Hasselbeck demanded that O'Donnell "defend [her] own insinuations" and jabbed at her feud with Trump, while O'Donnell branded her a "coward" for not answering the question two days prior.
"I'll tell you what's cowardly. Asking a rhetorical question that you never answer yourself," Hasselbeck shot back. "That is cowardly."
Somehow, Behar broke through and shouted, "Who is directing this show? Let's go to commercial!"
According to Dancing With the Stars pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who was watching in the greenroom alongside other DWTS stars and Alicia Silverstone, all waiting to appear in later segments on the show, staffers "went from laughter to giggles to silence to 'what the hell is going on?'"
"It was like watching a domestic dispute unfolding," he told People that June. "It was really uncomfortable. Alicia's segment was on [first], and she was like, ‘I don't want to go on now.'"
The 10-minute shouting match would be the end of O'Donnell's first season on the show. She asked to be released from her contract three weeks ahead of her June 21 exit, the network happily obliged (despite the fact that the argument brought the show its best ratings ever). That May 25, 2007 episode would be her last.
"She was tired of the day-to-day fighting," her lifelong friend Jackie Ellard told People. "She doesn't second-guess her decision at all. In fact, I'm sure she's sleeping better than she has in a long time."
In the immediate aftermath, Hasselbeck tried to downplay the bitterness of O'Donnell's exist, telling reporters, "We're friends, and when friends differ so strongly in their opinions things are bound to get heated." On May 29, the first episode back without O'Donnell, Hasselbeck would tell viewers that she and O'Donnell were "in communication a lot." But O'Donnell told a different story, explaining on her web site that they'd only exchanged one brief email. "I haven't spoken to her," she wrote, "and I probably won't. I never tried harder to be friends with someone than I did with her. But I don't think we ever got there, or anywhere close."
Speaking with Oprah Winfrey in 2010, O'Donnell would explain, "We had a friendship in some capacity, and there's something about somebody being different on TV toward you than they are in the dressing room. It didn't really ring true for me. I just felt it was a betrayal of my friendship, and what you saw there was my hurt feelings."
Though, as she told it, the fight itself wasn't the reason she threw in the towel that day. "I didn't come back because the director and the producer did a split screen, and they had to prepare that in advance. I knew that because I was the producer of my own television show," she added. "I felt there was a little bit of a setup involved in egging me into that position."
Over the years, Hasselbeck and O'Donnell would appear to mend fences multiple times, as early as January 2008 when O'Donnell told People they'd made up following the arrival of her frenemy's son Taylor Thomas. "He's very, very cute. I saw him on TV, and I sent him a lovely gift, and [she and Hasselbeck] have been e-mailing each other," she told the publication. "And peace prevails." By 2011, they were making dates for lunch via Twitter. And by the time Walters was leaving the series in May 2014, the two were cordial enough with one another to appear together, along with all the show's other former co-hosts, in a special episode. They even sat next to one another!
But two months later, when it was announced that O'Donnell would be returning to the show, the niceties were over. Hasselbeck, who had departed a year earlier to join Fox & Friends, would call in to the Fox News morning program while she was away on vacation to rip into the woman with whom she shared such a rocky history.
"Here in comes to The View the very woman who's spit in the face of our military, spit in the face of her own network, and, really spit in the face of a person who stood by her and had civilized debates for the time that she was there — coming back with a bunch of control, ready to regain The View with a seat at that table," she said, before claiming that O'Donnell had taken credit for producing the May reunion show.
"Go back to the reunion show for Barbara, how odd is this? When you have a woman who again insinuated that our own troops are terrorists in Iraq at the time, [who] left the show…while still at the end of her contract — to have such ease the day of Barbara's goodbye show was shocking to me," she continued. "She walked around with a lot of control and then when I had the chance to talk to her, Rosie herself, told me, on-set while we were mic-ed up, that she produced the reunion show to have everybody together and that it was her idea. Now, do you think the woman who left the way that she did would be producing Barbara's goodbye show? Here's the shocker, it was actually her ‘Hello Show.'"
For her part, O'Donnell responded by tweeting an old clip of Hasselbeck on The View, arguing on behalf of controversial interrogation techniques utilized by Americans at Guantanamo Bay, while separately claiming that Hasselbeck was hiding in her dressing room on the day of the reunion show. "til i walked right in and said hello," the tweet continued. "her reply LETS TAKE A SELFIE !!"
While speaking with Parade that September, Hasselbeck would touch, briefly, on O'Donnell as the publication asked whether she thought her old foe would be different in her second go-round on their own stomping grounds. "I don't know. I reached out to Rosie for many years, including the day after everything happened," she replied. "That's something I've talked about time and again. I was not met with a response, but I wish them well."
O'Donnell's second stint at co-host would prove to be even more brief than her first. Despite signing an 11-month contract, she would depart the show in February. Speaking with reporters following the announcement, O'Donnell attributed the decision to health woes compounded by the trouble in her failing marriage to then-wife Michelle Rounds. "[My health] got a little bit worse right before the holidays — [my doctor] was kind of concerned," she said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "I can't really fix [my personal life] right away, but I can fix [my job]. So I spoke to them at ABC, and I told them, and they understood. They've been unbelievably supportive and loving."
However, the rumored frostiness between O'Donnell and current moderator Whoopi Goldberg, who'd replaced the former when she left the first time, as well as an inability to fully gel with the new production staff were reported to have played a part in the decision, as well.
Hasselbeck's time at Fox & Friends was nearly as brief, with the conservative commentator opting to retire in November 2015 to spend more time with her family, telling viewers she wanted to give them "the best of me, not the rest of me." And with neither of them commenting on the news on a daily forum any longer, it seemed like that might be the natural conclusion to the contentious connection.
Until this week, that is.
The latest excerpt of author Ramin Setoodeh's upcoming tell-all book, The Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View, to make its way to the internet ahead of its April 2 release focuses squarely on the chapter devoted to O'Donnell's fiery first season on the show. And in it, O'Donnell herself offers a mind-blowing perspective on the true nature of her relationship with Hasselbeck. "I loved her," O'Donnell says, explaining that she initially attempted to guide Hasselbeck by offering advice about how to debate on TV. "Here's what I said, ‘I'm the senior. She's the freshman. I've got a really good player on the freshman team, but I have to teach her how to loosen up.'"
"There was a little bit of a crush," O'Donnell continues, per Variety. "But not that I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to support, raise, elevate her, like she was the freshman star shortstop and I was the captain of the team. I was going to Scottie Pippen her. If I was Jordan, I was going to give her and the ball and let her shoot. But it was in no way sexualized." She even goes on to assert that there were "underlying lesbian undertones on both parts," backing up her claim with some questionable evidence. She was the MVP of a Division 1 softball team for two years that won the finals," she said. "There are not many, in my life, girls with such athletic talent on sports teams that are traditionally male that aren't at least a little bit gay."
As for that last day spent together on set, O'Donnell claims her response to how it all went down had to do with far more than just politics. "It felt like a lover breaking up," O'Donnell says about her last day on TV with Hasselbeck. "The fight that we had, to me as a gay woman, it felt like this: ‘You don't love me as much as I love you.' ‘I've taken care of you.' ‘You have not.' ‘How could you do that to me?' ‘I didn't do anything to you.'"
Returning to Fox & Friends on Tuesday, March 26—the day after the explosive excerpt was unveiled—to promote her new book Point of View: A Fresh Look at Work, Faith, and Freedom, Hasselbeck responded to O'Donnell's claims, telling her former co-hosts that when she read it she "immediately started praying."
"And I feel like the truth is if you took her words and you replaced Rosie for Ronald there would be an objectification of women in the workplace," she continued. "So that is disturbing and it's wrong. And whether you're a man or whether you're a woman, and you're objectifying women in the workplace, it's wrong."
Hasselbeck admitted that she attempted to call O'Donnell after reading the excerpt, but only had an old number stored in her phone. I would say this directly to her, and I would say, 'That's an unfair stereotype and it seems selfish in a way and I think that it's untrue so I think the truth of that… I can handle that with the grace of God because I need grace and I need forgiveness. So Rosie, I think it was disturbing to read those things and it was offensive to me, but I forgive her. I totally forgive you, Rosie. I really hope that we can be at peace and that we can... both hold our beliefs in one hand and hold each other's hand in the other and still have a relationship that's at peace."
While O'Donnell and Hasselbeck's feud may go down as the most memorable in The View's storied history, they're far from the only two to have turned the Hot Topics table into a boxing ring. To relive all of the show's most unforgettable showdowns, read on!