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'Barbara Walters: Her Story' review: Babs avoids being an emotional basket case

Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner anchor

Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner anchor "ABC Evening News" on Oct. 4, 1976, during her her network debut. Walters also made history for becoming the nation's first female network news anchor. Credit: AP

THE SHOW "Barbara Walters: Her Story"

WHEN | WHERE Friday at 9 p.m., ABC/7

WHAT IT'S ABOUT With Bill Geddie, her longtime production partner on "The View," as tour guide, this two-hour special covers the most celebrated newswoman in TV history. Sitting on a bare stage, Geddie asks the questions and Walters answers. There also are dozens of clips, outtakes and brief testimonials to prove -- as if "proof" were required -- that one of TV's most extraordinary careers is over.

MY SAY Just about anything that could be said about Walters has been said in the past 50 or so years -- not all flattering, as she would be first to admit -- so it is appropriate that Walters gets in the last word. "Her Story" is that word, or rather that sprawl of images, observations, regrets, joys, setbacks, triumphs and memories.

All the greatest hits are here -- the interviews that made her career and that linger as milestones in the history of modern culture, and especially pop culture. You could trip over the list of names because it is so endless -- presidents, stars, "fascinating" people, cons and ex-cons. She's been down this long and winding road before, in her much more intimate 2008 autobiography, "Audition," and in 1996, when ABC aired another prime-time celebration to mark her 20th anniversary at the network. There have been other career retrospectives through the decades -- let's just say Walters hasn't been lacking for attention during a run that began in the early '60s. The sheer accumulated weight of all this focus lends tomorrow's fond farewell a certain aura of familiarity. We know the subject well. Or, at least we think we do.

But that doesn't make "Her Story" any less informative or enjoyable -- and it is absolutely both. Giants don't really leave this particular stage all that often anymore because there are so few left to leave. None have the renown or longevity of Walters, which lends "Her Story" an unexpected poignancy, too.

But how truly intimate is this? Not very. Her longtime friend and colleague asks the right questions, but you're also left to wonder whether he already knew many of the answers -- or even whether a longtime friend and colleague is the right one to do the asking.

But, then, Walters is the most skillful interviewer on television, and no one is going to trip her up or extract something she doesn't want extracted. This may be the last full portrait of Walters most of us will ever see.

The first moments and final minutes tonight offer those few touches that are about as personal as Walters cares to get here.

Through no tears -- as if -- she recounts her childhood ("Lonely, and I'm not sure why") as daughter of famed impresario Lou Walters, who went broke and who would ultimately be supported by his daughter. She speaks of her mentally handicapped older sister, Jacqueline, who died in 1985. "I resented her, yet I loved her." (Walters named her adopted daughter Jacqueline.)

At conclusion, Geddie turns some of those classic Walters zingers onto the master herself -- questions crafted to turn even the most polished celeb into a maze of introspection or an emotional basket case. But the master is unfazed. When asked, "What's the biggest misconception about you?," she replies: "That I'm too serious, don't have a sense of humor."

Finally, he asks, "What will you miss the most?" Her response: "I will miss the friendships."

But watch this and see if you're also left with the feeling that Babs isn't going too far away. Old friendships, after all, are hard to leave behind.

BOTTOM LINE Fun, occasionally informative trip by a true TV legend.


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