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The New ‘View’ Premiere Review: Rosie O’Donnell, New Co-Hosts Earned Their Applause

Skeptics should expect to be won over by the intelligence, experience and chemistry on the ABC talker’s new panel

At the end of Monday’s revamped “The View,” the new panel cheered and celebrated completing their first episode with a cheer and hugs. They deserved it. This skeptic was won over.

This new-ish group of ladies included returning host Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, who came back to the show after roughly seven years, and new hires actress Rosie Perez and conservative commentator Nicole Wallace. The women were intelligent, respectful of one another’s opinions and just seemed to really respect (if not even like) each other.

ABC’s marketing sold this new season as the start of a “new era,” complete with the new panel additions and a new set. All that really didn’t register with me. That’s, to be terribly literal, is set decoration. What Monday’s episode proved was that it really all comes down to the ladies.

See video: ‘The View’s’ Rosie-fied Season Kicks Off With Ray Rice Scandal: ‘He Cold-Cocked Her’

No one is more exhausted by the news surrounding the new hires than me, a writer and journalist covering the beat, but ABC got it right. Whatever testing and re-testing and lying about the departing hosts and producers that went down seems to have worked.

Goldberg is back to lend some continuity. O’Donnell returns to prove that she isn’t finished in daytime talk after dramatically leaving “The View” over a contract dispute and some inappropriate-for-daytime rants, as well as a failed talk show on Oprah Winfrey‘s young OWN that didn’t attract viewers.

And what of the two true newbies? A former communications chief for George W. Bush and senior advisor to the McCain/Palin campaign, Wallace is finally a conservative panelist that knows what she’s talking about. She can not only laugh about the foibles of Sarah Palin and Bush, but she is an open book as to the behind-the-scenes stories. And let’s face it, hilarious stories about Palin on the campaign trail is worth tuning into on its own.

See video: ‘The View': Rosie O’Donnell, Newcomers Talk Politics, Strong Opinions and Who’s the Smart One

I’ve always liked Rosie Perez. She’s a fighter, literally — she shared that she has studied kung fu for four years. But truth be known, I wondered how her thick New York accent would play on a nationally televised talk show. She’s clearly taken some speech lessons and the accent is only noticeable when she slips once in a while. But what she lends to the group is some heart. In defending boxers and football players against O’Donnell’s theory that they can’t separate violence at work and violence at home, she made the very cogent observation that former South African president Nelson Mandela was a boxer and also one of history’s most nonviolent people.

The show played a little catch up for the time it was off-the-air, with the Ray Rice conversation and a tribute to “The View’s” 34-time guest Joan Rivers, but that’s to be expected. The producers did a great job of showcasing its new panelists with question games such as Perez/O’Donnell’s “Ro or Ro?” Most of the answers had to do with Perez and Wallace’s “Ask Me Anything,” in which she talked about how Palin felt she was set up by Wallace in that now-classic Katie Couric “Today” interview.

Also read: ‘The View’ Debuts Its Makeover: TheWrap’s Live Blog

The real test now lies ahead for the producers. Led by former “Rachel Maddow Show” executive producer Bill Wolff, the producers played the first episode back very well. It was light on content and there were no celebrity guests other than Kristin Chenoweth performing a song in tribute to Rivers, but that seemed to be needed in order to introduce the new panel. We’ll need to see how they perform when it’s business as usual.

The show had been holding steady in the ratings, but the real scary prospect was how much “The Talk” was closing the ratings gap. It remains to be seen if this new show can move the needle and stave off the competition.