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Barbara Walters was a television pioneer who always wanted more and always got it.

Barbara Walters is practically responsible for the advancement of American working women.

Walters, who died on Friday at the age of 93, began her on-screen TV career in 1961 on “The Today Show” as a glorified morning model dubbed “The Today Girl.” She ended it more than 50 years later as one of television’s most powerful and influential figures, male or female.

It wasn’t an easy journey; there were numerous bumps and detours. But each step she took smoothed the path for the women who came after her.

You don’t get to the end of a trail like that without a lot of ambition, tenacity, drive, and competitive fire – after all, this is the woman who practically invented the “big get” interview. You also don’t get there without meeting a few rivals, both friendly and hostile.

But you also don’t get there unless you have enough talent, skill, and smarts to overcome social constraints and your own liabilities. She was never a conventional TV beauty, and with her multiple marriages, she rarely fit the mould.

She had a vocal quirk that Gilda Radner famously skewered on “Saturday Night Live” in her “Baba Wawa” sketches, a name that stuck, much to Walters’ chagrin.

Nonetheless, for many years, almost every celebrity and many heads of state regarded a sit-down interview with Walters as both a confirmation of their arrival and a requirement of their jobs.

It’s easy to understand Walters’ disdain for those who acquired their fame too easily or squandered it too recklessly. Every step of the way, Walters fought to establish her career, often against entrenched male opposition – executives and coworkers who believed a woman’s place on TV was leading cooking segments or speaking to the head of the local gardening club.

Walters was always hungry for more, and he always got it.

When she was a news writer behind the scenes, first at CBS’ “Morning Show” and then at NBC’s “Today,” she yearned to be on camera. When she first appeared on television as “Today Girl” in 1961, she wanted to be seen as a true reporter, and she earned a ground-breaking assignment accompanying first lady Jackie Kennedy to India and Pakistan.

She wanted to be the co-host when she was a reporter. And being a de facto co-host, forced to wait until the men were finished before asking her questions, wasn’t enough. She desired the official title at “Today,” and she became the first woman to win it in 1974.

She left that position in 1976 to join ABC as co-anchor of the “ABC Evening News,” becoming the network’s first female evening news anchor. Her co-anchor, Harry Reasoner, didn’t want her there and made no attempt to hide his displeasure. She was fired two years later, a blow that would have deterred a less determined individual.

Instead, Walters flourished. She seemed to have an enormous, innate confidence in her ability to talk to anyone about anything (a belief expressed in her first, best-selling book), and she put that belief into action with a landmark series of interviews, both on “20/20” and on her own specials.

Name a major figure from the era, and chances are he or she spoke with Walters, whose “gets” ranged from the first American network television interview with President Richard Nixon following his resignation to the most-watched interview of all time, a sit-down with Monica Lewinsky that drew more than 48 million viewers in the United States.

Why did they all approach Walters? Perhaps because she was a famously skilled negotiator, but also because they could tell they’d be on a level playing field. Walters prodded and probed, frequently looking for an emotional hot spot.

But she knew her subject inside and out, which interview subjects appreciated as a sign of interest and preparation. And, while she was capable of manipulation (the desire to make every subject cry), she was never devious. You rarely left a Walters interview with the impression that an important question had gone unasked, or that the person on the other end had been duped into some revelation or gaffe; she led the conversation, but they eagerly followed.

Of course, no one walks on new ground without stepping on a few toes or making a few mistakes. Yes, it was a follow-up to Hepburn’s statement that she was like a tree, but it was still a stupid follow-up.

Her treatment of her co-stars on “The View,” the daytime talk show she created in 1997, came across as callous at times, and her refusal to be honest about her age appeared to be a holdover from the “Today Girl” era she helped to demolish.

But perhaps the next great newswoman will be able to break through this barrier.

You couldn’t expect Walters to do everything. What she did was more than noteworthy.

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