Rosie O'Donnell talks about why she spurned NBC and why she's devoted to Oprah
Which Rosie O'Donnell will we get when her TV show, "The Rosie Show," debuts (Mon. Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. on OWN)? Will it be the gung-ho, celebrity worshipping Rosie of her 1990s talk show? Or maybe the angry co-host of "The View"? In a conference call with reporters, O'Donnell said viewers should expect a mellower, more mature presence. "I've been doing this for more than half my life, and I have a different take on it," she said. "With the advent of the Internet, there's such accessibility to celebrities, and we really want more of the gritty underbelly and less of the polished veneer. More like Dick Cavett or Charlie Rose, but with humor." During the interview, Rosie also talked about what made her spurn NBC for OWN, the one regret she has from her last talk show and her list of dream guests.
O'Donnell admits that the landscape of not only talk TV but television itself has changed substantially since her first show left the air. "It's changed completely," she said. "It's not the same landscape in any capacity. In 1996 I had to convince people I wasn't going to do a Jerry Springer type show, and when I said it was going to be more Merv Griffin the reaction was it will never work… it was violence on a daily basis [on talk television]. No other network was putting out positivity, other than Oprah, in 1996. I remember having meetings with Warner Bros. and they didn't really understand the Internet and how media is consumed by the audience at home. There was no Perez Hilton, no TMZ like there is now. You used to have three options and that was it. It's changed completely now. The numbers we got in the 90s were sixes… now people get ones on network television, never mind cable. Kids now don't know the difference between network TV and cable TV. I think it's a whole different world, a whole different game. To be back in the game with an Oprah Winfrey jersey on is inspiring for me. She's not simply a corporation with an eye on the bottom line."
Though O'Donnell says Oprah Winfrey is "magical" and says she's long been a "crazy super fan," her decision to reject a contract for her own talk show from NBC had plenty to do with the peacock network as well. "There was some question with NBC as to whether I would be able to withstand the network mishigas, and this was right after the whole Conan brouhaha," she says. "After that, I didn't have a lot of confidence in the network…. You make a lot more money on network, but it was never about money for me."
Even though OWN has struggled in the ratings, O'Donnell isn't worried about her new home. "I have tremendous faith in [Winfrey's] ability to do almost anything," she says. "When she puts her mind to anything, it gets done. People ask if I feel pressure. I feel nothing but privilege, really." She later added, "If you look at the launch of any cable channel, it takes three years. The people are just waiting for us to fill up the programming. It's going to be a huge hit like everything else [Winfrey] touches."
O'Donnell, who has already announced her first guest [Russell Brand] says her first week will also be filled with star power with appearances by Salma Hayek, Roseanne Barr, Gloria Estefan, Wanda Sykes and Carrie Fisher, but she still has a wish list of other stars. "Adele has throat issues but as soon as she's up and healthy she'll be on," she says. "I want to have Melissa McCarthy on. Never seen anyone as funny their first time as host of 'Saturday Night Live.' Emma Stone… Ryan Gosling I think is an amazing actor. I have a huge wish list."
The host says that, despite the cavalcade of stars, she won't be approaching the show like a Leno or Letterman. "I'm going to come out and do stand-up with a mic. I don't really tell jokes and my stand-up was always more about stories, so I need a mic and a stand. I felt like Henny Youngman [without it]. I'll do about ten minutes of stand up, then take questions from the audience like Carol Burnett did. So we're gonna have a real lengthy sit down interview, not always a celebrity with something to promote. Then we have a human interest segment and we play a game at the end of every show…. This will be more fun than anyone imagined. I cheat, but it's still fun."
The show won't be all fun and games. Thanks to the live format, she intends to address current events, but in a very different way than she addressed them on "The View." "I think when I was on 'The View,' the nature of that show was antagonism and people were pitted against each other… Growing older and being almost 50 years old gives you a perspective. On this program, we're going to have the time and space to go in depth about things we think without the antagonism and vitriol that sometimes appeared on the other program," she says. Plus, "I'm sure we'll have presidential candidates [as guests]."
One guest we probably won't see on the show is Tom Selleck, who was the unfortunate focus of one of O'Donnell's few regretted interviews during which she challenged Selleck for his support of the NRA following the Columbine shootings. "I guess if I had to think about it, maybe I'd redo the Tom Selleck interview," she said. "I thought I could affect some sort of change... In hindsight I would have done it a lot differently now and as somebody who would understand the ramifications of this kind man having to be associated with me for the rest of his life, and I don't think that's really fair. We've asked him [to appear on the show] but he hasn't accepted and I truly don't blame him. He's actually very lovely and it was a very bad time in my life. I went on antidepressants after Columbine I was overwhelmingly distraught in a way my therapist said wasn't necessarily germane to the issue."