“I grew up debating with my dad,” Huntsman said by phone from New York. “My dad and I have such similar personalities, and we’d go at it. We’d fight and we would debate things all my growing-up years. We still do that to this day.”
Which prepared her to sit next to Whoopi Goldberg on the “View” panel Monday-Friday (10 a.m., ABC/Channel 4). Huntsman joined the show in the first week of September.
Not infrequently, “The View” has made headlines when conflicts between panelists have gotten out of hand or have gotten personal. While she acknowledges that conflict is part of the formula of the daytime talk show, Huntsman sees that as a positive.
“You debate to learn from each other,” she said. “We can disagree, and sometimes it can get heated. Sometimes it can be funny. Sometimes you can get emotional. You never know quite what's going to happen any given day.
“But that's really a fun part of the job.”
According to Huntsman, the “View” panelists “really do get along” — which is not to say they don’t disagree.
“Sometimes in the morning meetings, it can get heated because you’re debating the stories you want to do that day and you can be on different sides. Sometimes I wish people could hear our morning meetings, and sometimes I’m really glad they don’t,” she said with a laugh.
“When we’re together backstage, it’s been so easy, honestly. From day one, they’ve all wanted me to do well, because they want the show to do well. … Honestly, it feels like a family.”
‘I’m just being me’
What watchers of “The View” are learning is that Abby Huntsman is not the right-wing ideologue they may have believed. Yes, her most recent job was anchoring the weekend edition of “Fox & Friends” on the Fox News Channel, but before that she worked at MSNBC and the Huffington Post.
“I’m someone that is a pretty moderate person politically,” she said. “I might be more conservative than some of the panelists on the show, but you never quite know where I might fall.
“In time, people will find — I’m just being me. And I think what makes the show so great is there is that room for all these different opinions and different personalities and different backgrounds.”
She’s certainly not afraid to criticize Donald Trump or to express conservative views unpopular with fellow panelists and the studio audience.
“If I say something [and] no one on the show agrees with me or the audience isn’t really on my side, as long as I believe in it, I’m fine,” she said. “I can sit there and not get applause or not have anyone nod their head with me. That’s OK.”
Huntsman said she’s always been a fan of Goldberg, called her “a legend” and said, “She teaches me something every single day.”
It might seem like an odd pairing — the sometimes stridently liberal Goldberg and Huntsman, one of two (with Meghan McCain) designated conservatives on “The View.”
The differences came out immediately on Huntsman’s first week as she argued that NFL players kneeling during the national anthem were “disrespectful,” and Goldberg replied that “the flag doesn’t cover everyone the same way.”
Huntsman said Goldberg brings her life experience to the show.
“When she’s talking about kneeling or whatever the issue is, it’s coming from a genuine place. A passion. Things that she’s seen in her own life,” she said. “So, honestly, the more I’ve gotten to know Whoopi, the more impressed I am — if that’s even possible — with her heart and who she is and what she brings to that show every day.”
‘Remind people of the sanity’
Huntsman said she’s striving to emulate Goldberg by bringing her own kind of “authenticity” that “you don’t always see on television.”
That approach matches the counsel she’s gotten from her father.
“‘You’ve got to go be Abby,’ he said. ‘You are a happy person. Remind people of the sanity in this world,’” she said.
With her father living in Moscow, “it’s tough because it’s Russia and everything’s recorded. You can only say so much on the phone,” Huntsman said. “He’s busy, but he’s watched a number of the clips that I’ve sent him.
“And he’s honestly been so proud of me all these years. He said, ‘You know what? Don’t ever let me tell you how to be or what to say. Do you. Don’t feel pressure to speak for any group or family or political party.’ He’s been really big on that.
“And both he and my mom have been so supportive.”
When people ask Huntsman what it means that she’s a conservative, she tells them: “You’ve got to meet my dad,” she said. “He was the first [GOP office-holder], I think, in the state to support gay marriage. And he was all about clean energy. And those weren’t, at the time, conservative values. But at the same time, he was doing great things with the economy.
“So he’s taught me a lot about — you don’t need to live in a box. You can do things differently, and you can still make change.”
She said her father’s “dream is to have a ticket to run for president that’s a Democrat and a Republican. If only he would do that himself, I would love it. I think the country would benefit.”
Getting in front of the camera
As her father’s daughter, Huntsman can’t remember when she wasn’t in the public eye.
“My dad was ambassador to Singapore when I was 6,” she said. “And you constantly had people coming in to see him, and you had to have your dress on and you had to shake hands. And my parents would always say, ‘Look them in the eye and ask them questions about themselves.’”
She started acting in plays when she was 7 and continued through high school. For her father’s various governmental and diplomatic jobs, “we moved so many times in my life that you’re always the new girl. You’re always having to let people into your life and show them who you are.
“And I'm sure that that makes it a lot easier for me now.”
Huntsman said she’s been “fascinated” by journalism since she was in elementary school.
“When my dad got into politics, I was obsessed with the journalism side. We’d go to events and I would always love sitting with the journalists and seeing what they did,” she said. “But I never thought I would be on camera.”
Not when she interned at KTVX’s “Good Things Utah.” Not when she interned at ABC News in New York. “I really loved the producing side and the booking side, and I was fine doing that,” she said.
Then she and her sisters became at least minor media sensations working on their father’s presidential campaign, which helped her land a job with HuffPost Live.
“Life is sort of a mix of hard work and good luck, and it ended up changing for me after my dad’s campaign,” she said. “I feel really lucky to be where I am and to be able to have a voice. It’s a real responsibility, and I don’t take that lightly.”
Huntsman is doing a show that airs five days a week, but it’s a nice change from her last gig — anchoring the weekend edition of “Fox & Friends” for four hours on Saturday and another four hours Sunday.
“A four-hour show is a long show,” she said. “But I loved it. I think it got me to where I am today.”
Tucker Carlson, who was on the weekend show with her for a brief period, told her, “‘If you can do the weekend show, you can do anything in television,’” she said. “Because you really have everything that comes your way, from breaking news to opinion to interviews. Sometimes you do a five-hour show with no commercials, if it’s a breaking-news day.”
So doing a show that airs live at 11 a.m. ET seems almost easy.
“The schedule is lovely, being a mom, because I can rush home to my daughter in the afternoon and have weekends with my family,” said Huntsman, the mother of 9-month-old Isabel.
Still, she second-guesses herself “every single day.”
“You get home, and you run it through your head,” she said. “And I hate watching myself, as so many people do.”
She bemoans thinking of the right thing to say two hours after a show has ended.
“Every day, I call my husband [Jeff Livingston] and say, ‘I wish I’d said this differently.’ He’s like, ‘Abby, you can’t live that way.’”
Once a Utahn, always a Utahn
Huntsman, her husband and her daughter are New Yorkers now; “The View” is produced in the city. But she said she remains a Utahn at heart.
“I’ll always be from Utah,” Huntsman said. “Every time I land, I’m like — this is home. This where I was raised. … We moved around a bit, but Utah was always home base. And it’s such a good quality of life. I can’t tell you how many times I miss the wide-open spaces, the mountains.
“I love New York for so many reasons — it’s crazy, it’s busy, it’s where a lot of the action happens in this country, and I feel really lucky to be able to live here and do what I do. But I miss Utah. I miss the people. I miss just the way of life. It’s a place full of values. Beyond that, it’s just a beautiful place to live.”
Editor’s note • Salt Lake Tribune owner and publisher Paul Huntsman is Abby Huntsman’s uncle.