50 Years Of 'Baba Wawa': Barbara Walters Remembered Through 'Saturday Night Live' Sketches
Last Friday, December 30th, trailblazing TV journalist Barbara Walters passed away at the age of 93. Through her work on shows such as Today, the ABC Evening News, 20/20 and The View, Walters was a foundational piece in American News for 65 years – just as impressions of the TV personality have been a foundational piece of Saturday Night Live for as long as the show has been on the air.
The late, great Gilda Radner first brought “Baba Waba” to the sketch series in SNL’s inaugural season all the way back in 1975, and the honor of impersonating one of television’s greatest pioneers was passed down through the decades as each new generation of performers participated in the great tradition of making fun of the woman who brought dignity and professionalism to the American media landscape – and also created The View.
Radner’s speech impediment-stricken impression is the most iconic impersonation of the legendary newscaster, as well as Radner’s most enduring character. Though Walters was initially insulted by the way Radner ridiculed her irregular speech pattern, she later learned to appreciate the homage. After Radner passed away in 1989, Walters sent her widower, Gene Wilder, a sympathy note signed, “Barbara Wawa.” Said Walters, “Gilda was so wonderful — the sketch immortalized me — but at the time I wasn't so thrilled."
A side note – it’s sickening how the only person involved in the above sketch who is still with us is Henry Kissinger.
In the 1990s, the SNL Walters impression was revived by Cheri Oteri who played the newscaster 23 separate times as Walters launched the massively successful and massively annoying talk show, The View. Walters was slightly more receptive to Oteri’s take on her mannerisms, even collaborating with the comic for a special segment on The View.
In the 21st century, a handful of SNL cast members took turns trying on the Walters character – Rachel Dratch, Michaela Watkins and Nasim Pedrad all played the part – but, after Radner and Oteri, no one played Walters better on SNL than Walters herself. In 2014, Walters appeared on SNL to celebrate her retirement from television and to officially retire her impression on “Weekend Update.” Walters ended her legendary career with some timeless advice for all the young women in journalism whom she inspired – said Walters, “Do not be afraid to ask the tough questions, like, ‘If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?’ or, ‘Your place or mine, Brokaw?’”
Thank you, Baba Wawa.