UPDATED EXCLUSIVE: After years of speculation, I hear Barbara Walters may be finally ready to hand up her microphone. I’ve learned a plan has been put in place for Walters to announce her retirement, eyed for May 2014. Fitting for Walters’ status as the grand dame of TV journalism and a signature face of ABC News, I hear she would be given a big sendoff with retrospectives and other special content in the weeks leading to her retirement that would celebrate her 52-year broadcast career. Walters had been determined to leave on her own terms, so it is unclear whether revealing the plans would make her change her mind and whether she would go for a full retirement or keep some TV presence with occasional appearances and specials.
Walters has been a trailblazer for female TV journalists, becoming the first woman to co-host a news program when she got behind the Today desk in 1974 and the first co-anchor of a network evening news broadcast when she joined ABC Evening News in 1976. She also anchored ABC News’ primetime newsmagazine 20/20 for 20 years.
Rumors about Walters’ retirement first picked up in December 2011, when TMZ reported of her remark to President Obama made into an open mic during a break in their interview that “I’m retiring next year.” ABC News dismissed the comment as a joke — Walters indeed did not retire last year. Her falling accident and subsequent hospitalization with chicken pox early this year also spurred rumors that she may be ready to reduce her workload. But she returned to work and resumed her duties on The View, which she executive produces and hosts, and at ABC News. A departure by Walters would add to what already is shaping to be a major overhaul of The View. Joy Behar, the only other original panelist besides Walters, recently announced she will leave in the summer. Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s future remains unclear and, despite ABC News’ statements about her long-term contract, speculation is that she will likely leave too.