Walters began her journalism career working as a news writer notably for NBC’s Today. She got her on-air break when she was asked to fill in for Mia Farrow’s mother, Maureen O’Sullivan, until a permanent replacement could be found. Walters said she never expected to be in front of the camera, but even so, it took nine years before she was made a co-host onToday.
She made headlines in 1976 when she left Today to accept a $1-million annual contract with ABC, at the time a record for a news personality.
“Today is 24 years old. During the first 12 years, there were 33 different women on the program; for the past 13 years, there’s been one,” Walters told viewers when she left Today. “In the early years of the program, I was sort of a glorified tea pourer … but times have changed. Women in television no longer have to begin as I did, and I’m happy for whatever small contribution I’ve made toward this change.”
Walters then stayed at ABC for 25 years as co-host and chief correspondent of ABC News’ 20/20. During her years on the show, she interviewed every American president and first lady since Richard Nixon. She also interviewed countless world leaders, including Cuban President Fidel Castro, Russia’s Boris Yeltsin, Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin, Great Britain’s former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and Iraqi President Sadaam Hussein.