In 1976, Walters came face-to-face with an incredible offer from ABC. She was offered one million dollars a year for five years if she moved to the network. She took it, and history was made as Walters was now television’s first network anchorwoman. Along with being an anchorwoman, she was also a host and producer for four prime-time specials and documentary programs.
But Walters’s newfound success didn’t come without a downside. Her glittering contract with ABC caused criticism and jealousy. Her income from NBC had doubled, and her show “Not for Women Only” made her the highest-paid newscaster of all time (during that time).
Working Her Way Up
To the surprise of her fans, Walters considers her “being in front of the camera... such an amazing accident.” She began working for about a year at a small advertising agency, then at the NBC network affiliate WNBC, working in publicity. She worked hard and eventually landed the opportunity to produce a 15-minute kids' program called "Ask the Camera" in 1953. She also produced a show for TV host Igor Cassini but decided to leave the role after her boss pressured her to marry him.
Walters’s next stop was at NBC’s "Today Show" as both a writer and a researcher in 1961. She then became known as the show’s “Today Girl,” handling routine assignments such as the weather. In her autobiography, she expressed that, at this time, as a woman, you were not taken seriously enough to be allowed to handle the “hard news.”
The Next Steps
The women who preceded Walters as “Today Girls” included Florence Henderson, Helen O’Connell, Estelle Parsons, and Lee Meriwether. Though she faced some obstacles as a woman in the field of journalism at this time, it took less than a year for Walters to become an active reporter. She was able to develop, write, and edit reports and interviews of her own. This was pioneering work at the time. Walters had a congenial relationship with host Hugh Downs for a while, but after Frank McGee was named the new host, he refused to do joint interviews with her unless he was privileged to ask the first three questions.
Unfortunately for Walters, she was only named co-host of the show once McGee died in 1974. Only then did NBC designate her as the show’s first female co-host. An interesting side fact is that, in 1971, Walters was able to host her own local NBC affiliate show called "Not for Women Only," which aired in the mornings after the "Today Show." But Walters was due to step into a new role on a new show. Little did she know it would be the breakthrough that she needed.
Her Unique Success
Walters may have had an unorthodox approach to interviewing her subjects, but her techniques were groundbreaking. In fact, she decided to write a book about her career. Walters revealed the “secrets of her success” in her book "How to Talk With Practically Anybody About Practically Anything." It’s been said that Walters was so adept at interviewing because she knew what the public wanted to know.
But with an avant-garde approach came criticism. Walters’s interviewees claimed her nervousness was distracting. In contrast, others said she was overzealous, which led to mistakes (like the time she grabbed a different network’s microphone to get an on-the-spot interview). Thankfully for her, she had far more admirers than critics. Walter Cronkite himself was impressed with her interviewing talents.
Enduring Criticism and Hostility
Yet, the criticism Walters faced was heavy at times. Studio executives were skeptical of Walters bringing a “show biz tint” to often bland news segments. They also thought that the public may not have been ready to accept a female news anchor. According to ABC’s private polls, before Walters’s generous contract, only 13 percent preferred a male anchor.
Walters was not silent about the criticism she was facing. She recalled the undeniable hostility she received from her co-anchor Harry Reasoner when the two were co-anchors on the ABC Evening News from 1976 to 1978. Reasoner claimed that he did not want a co-anchor, though he worked with former CBS colleague Howard K. Smith every night on ABC for several years.