TCA 2011: Rosie O'Donnell on why she's done with big networks
Rosie O'Donnell says NBC's handling of the Conan O'Brien affair convinced her to bid adieu to big networks.
O'Donnell is bringing her new talk show to OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network weeknights at 7 in the fall.
One reason she went to OWN rather than a broadcast network, she told reporters Friday, was because she saw NBC throw Conan O’Brien “under a bus” on “The Tonight Show.” “So my desire to attach to a major corporation that had just taken 15 years of service and treated it as if it was nothing was a huge factor in me not signing” with a major network, she said.
She's convinced her new boss is a better fit, although: "Let me tell you, I’m still scared when she calls."
The "she" is, of course, Oprah Winfrey, O’Donnell’s formidable new boss, who’s hoping the famously scrappy, liberal and proudly out lesbian comic –- who several times reminded her audience that she turns 50 next year -- can reinvigorate Winfrey’s sagging cable channel with a nightly talk show this fall.
Although it was expected to enter the daytime fray, "The Rosie Show" will air at 7 p.m., OWN announced at the TV press tour in Beverly Hills, leading into "repackaged" clips from Oprah’s recently concluded syndicated talk show, which will be stitched together with new intros from Winfrey.
"It’s a great time, 7 o'clock, where you can sit down with your family before your viewing night begins," an animated O’Donnell said of her own show.
Both women have a lot riding on the outcome.
Winfrey has discovered that creating a new cable brand in a crowded media market might be even tougher than daytime TV. OWN has struggled to find programs that connect with viewers, even though it’s spending far more than the network it replaced, Discovery Health. In May, the network sacked its chief executive, Christine Norman. Winfrey herself -– as well as Discovery Communications Chief Operating Officer Peter Ligouri -– have moved in to try to right the ship. Discovery is Winfrey’s partner in the venture.
Winfrey introduced O’Donnell, a move seemingly designed to foster the image that she’s knee-deep at the network.
"I get emails from friends regularly saying, 'I hope that you’re somewhere relaxing, enjoying your time off from the show,'" Winfrey said. "I’m not. I’m here, in the office, at home, listening to budget meetings and marketing meetings and talking about how to strategize and make this network everything we know it can be, to fulfill the potential of its vision."
Whether O’Donnell can work some of her magic remains to be seen. When she joined the syndicated morning chat show "The View" in 2006, ratings rose by double digits. And she built a large and loyal fan base with her own talk show, which ran from 1996 to 2002.
But O’Donnell has proven a polarizing figure as well as an unpredictable employee -– qualities that may make her an intriguing mix with Winfrey, who’s well-known for her iron resolve.
Her time on "The View" was a swirl of backstage turmoil, and when O’Donnell exited the program in 2006 she criticized her ex-colleagues, saying that there was “not a lot of camaraderie off-camera.” Earlier, her partnership with the publishers of McCalls to rebrand the magazine ended in mutual recriminations and lawsuits. Conservative critics have made O’Donnell a favorite target for her liberal opinions and she has engaged in epic feuds with personalities such as Donald Trump.
She sounded autumnal notes as she contemplates entering her sixth decade.
“Television is a lot different than it was when I did my old show,” she observed at one point, adding that the new show will explore “what it feels like to be 50 years old, move to another city, be divorced -– which I never thought I would be.”
O’Donnell’s highly publicized relationship with former spouse Kelli Carpenter ended in 2007.
“It wasn’t what I thought my life would be,” she continued. “I think that’s true for most people who are 50. You got a game plan, you got a blueprint, when you’re in your 20s or 30s. and then by the time you’re 50 you go, holy crap I didn’t expect those kinds of turns.”
The new show will spend most of the hour with one celebrity guest -– O’Donnell named comedian Russell Brand and singer Adele as two favorites on her “get” list.
The top of each program will feature O’Donnell doing some comedy, and at the end she’ll close with some sort of game, she said.
And as for her talent for stirring up trouble?
“We’re going to have a controversy segment,” she joked.
-- Scott Collins
Photo: Rosie O'Donnell will star in OWN's "The Rosie Show." Credit: Fredrick M. Brown/Getty Images.