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Rosie O'Donnell Returns to TV -- and the Forecast Isn't Good

Date October 11, 2011

I hear Rosie O'Donnell has leagues of devoted fans, but I've never met one. I hope for Oprah Winfrey's sake that she asked her staff to produce evidence of these throngs of Rosie-lovers before she gave Rosie five live hours per week on her network.

Rosie O'Donnell Returns to TV -- and the Forecast Isn't Good Me, I never had very strong feelings about O'Donnell, at least not while she was enjoying her reign

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I hear Rosie O'Donnell has leagues of devoted fans, but I've never met one. I hope for Oprah Winfrey's sake that she asked her staff to produce evidence of these throngs of Rosie-lovers before she gave Rosie five live hours per week on her network.

Rosie O'Donnell Returns to TV -- and the Forecast Isn't Good Me, I never had very strong feelings about O'Donnell, at least not while she was enjoying her reign as the Queen of Nice. I admit I enjoyed the schadenfreude of her unmasking as not-that-nice, not-that-beloved and definitely not-that-into Tom Cruise, but the truth is I didn't pay her much attention. It was only in researching her recent history that I discovered just how many accusations of breach of contract and unprofessional behavior she leaves in her wake as she joins the OWN team.

She clearly has issues with committing to a project (or a relationship for that matter) and has a gift for sticking her foot in her mouth. I also suffer from a pathological case of foot-in-mouth disease, so she has my sympathy. But she'll never have me as a viewer. For one thing, 'The Rosie Show' airs in a time slot that splits the difference between daytime and late night, with a 7PM ET slot on OWN and Discovery. I'm guessing a lot of the households harboring the Rosie fans we always hear about are also households where 6 - 8PM is family time -- devoted to dinner, homework and after school programs. The idea seems to be 'Ellen' in the evening; you'll recognize the game show elements from DeGeneres' show, but Rosie has none of Ellen's easygoing attitude.

All those career disasters have made O'Donnell kind of uptight and self-conscious. You know those people who make jokes at their own expense, who are so obviously awesome and cool that you never ever think for a minute that the real point of the joke is that you are supposed to reassure them that they are not fat, dumb, broke, ugly or whatever? Yeah, Rosie is not one of them. She's trying for the lighthearted approach that serves Ellen so well, but we all know the truth about Rosie now -- she is not light and easy, she is not well-adjusted, she can't let anything roll off her back. She has an opinion about everything, from big issues like the Iraq war, LGBT rights, gay marriage and abuse in the Catholic church to things that are really none of her business and outside her area of expertise -- like the Miss USA pageant, and most recently the story lines on 'Glee.'

I'm amazed Rosie is even watching 'Glee,' a show that is clearly on now, in 2011, because she's pretty out of touch otherwise. It really showed in her opening monologue, where she spent a few minutes making cracks about Spanx, a product whose time in the comedy limelight peaked about eleven years ago, when Oprah endorsed the company. (I can't help but wonder if Oprah asked Rosie to include the brand in her opening bit. Is that possible? Am I being too cynical?)

She also gave a fair amount of airtime over to what I'm sure is a very good impression of Penny Marshall. Marshall, though a venerable and admirable woman of great talent, has not actually appeared regularly on TV or film since the mid '80s. Most people have absolutely no idea what she sounds like when she talks -- a fact that was evident from the lack of laughs from the crowd.

If the show was taped, the way most daytime shows are, some of the really glaringly bad moments could have been edited or rewritten and re-shot, but guess who hates to do a taped show? The woman who had to apologize for imitating Chinese newscasters using the words 'ching chong' on 'The View.' Yes, Rosie lobbied for a live show and won. I wonder if Oprah has stress dreams about that decision.

In interviews, O'Donnell has insisted she feels no pressure in this new job, but that may be just another example of Rosie's ability to ignore reality. OWN is not working out the way Oprah and her partners at Discovery hoped. The ratings are pretty much a disaster, as the network actually brings in fewer eyeballs than the network it replaced, Discovery Health. That's bad enough, but think about the fact that OWN spends four times as much on programming compared to Discovery Health, which means many many millions are on the line.

Can you imagine having millions of dollars riding on Rosie O'Donnell? The thought makes me shudder.

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