“I’m back!” exclaimed Oprah Winfrey, who introduced O’Donnell to the room of journalists by explaining, “Last June, I went to see Rosie and we talked about the idea of her coming to OWN. I was so excited because, as we all know and she knew, she could have gone with any of the other big broadcasters but she chose to align herself, her talent [and] her big creative vision with me and with OWN and I could not be prouder to have you as a part of this family.”
After Oprah stepped off the stage, Rosie took over with the same self-deprecating, sharp humor and bare honesty that has both captured and outraged viewers over the years but her goal was to explain why the time was right for her to get back to the talk show grind and she laid it out with a blend of wit and sincere love for what she has spent her career doing – entertaining us.
Why did I want to come back? Well, my mom died at 39. It’s a story I tell often, and now it sounds like someone else’s life. So I was gonna make all my success and then retire at 40, and guess what? I did that. And then I went home, and every year I would have my mammogram and say, “Is it now?” And the doctor keeps going, “No. You’re healthy. You could lose a little weight, but you’re all right.” Every year. Then I finally realized, crap. I may live. You know? So I needed a plan for act two. I didn’t even plan this. I didn’t think I would be here. It’s like when you play a game, a video game with the quarters, and you do really well, you get extended play, another lap. I’ve been doing that for ten years. Like, oh, my gosh. And finally I thought maybe I should do something. So when Oprah announced that she was leaving, all of the people who usually call my agent called and said, you know, “Oh, please, now we’re really in need of you to come back,” and I kept calling my agent going, “Can you call the OWN people? Could you tell them I would like to go back but I would like to go back for OWN.” You know how agents really care about what you want to do, not about the finances. Mine was thrilled that I wanted to go to basic cable as opposed to one of the major networks.
So when Oprah and Rosie finally sat down to really talk the basics, Oprah asked the inevitable question, “Why do you want to do this?” and Rosie had the answer ready. “I was, like, ‘Because it’s you, and you may not get you,’ but I’m 50, and half my life I’ve gotten her, and it’s a huge, huge, you know, stamp of approval that’s beyond sort of anyone’s dream. It feels almost like being knighted, in a way, for her to go, ‘Hey, I want you to come do this for me,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’ Then we did, and here we are.”
But a lot has changed in the world of daytime television since Rosie’s daytime talk show went off the air (2002) and her abrupt departure from The View (2007). What exactly will her new show look like?
It’s going to be different from the old show I did when I was 33. I think the appeal of my program was that there was an authentic, genuine appreciation of pop culture. I love these people like Streisand and Tom Cruise. The concept that I can meet them was really beyond my belief and now I’m 50 and both of those people have stayed in my house so the enthusiasm that I had with celebrities has changed. I have evolved and grown and the show is going to be reflective of that. It’s not going to be your average show with three celebrities promoting something and you’ll see them on Letterman and Regis and all those other shows. It’s going to be one celebrity for each show and they’re going to have something to talk about and want to come and play and have a fun 60 minutes together.
Rosie being Rosie, she couldn’t help but bring up another daytime show she longed to be a part of but it sounds as though she may have made peace with it. Maybe. “You know my goal in life was to host The Price is Right. It has been in every TV contract I’ve ever signed. Should Bob Barker retire, this is my contractual out and then he retired and I begged them and they chose Drew Carey.” Rosie inserted a brief pause and then said with a hint of sarcasm, “He’s doing a fine job.” (Laughter filled the room, of course.)
The panel did venture into more serious topics when AfterEllen.com asked Rosie at the panel how she would handle issues, LGBT and all others, on the new show.
We’re going to have a controversy segment. [laughter] No, we’re not [but] if we were on in the last few months, I’m sure that we would have had someone talking with me one day, perhaps, about the fascination with the Casey Anthony trial, because as a child advocate my whole life and career, I don’t really understand why the media and the nation focused on this one child when there are many children killed and tortured every day. I don’t know why this one became the kind of news driver that it did, and I would like to approach that from a sociological or an anthropological point of view as to why we, as a culture, consume media in the way we do. So we’re not going to look for controversy, but should it be germane to what’s happening in the world, I’m sure we will bring up current events. Not in a way like attacking Tom Selleck or anything, because once you’ve done that once, really… [more laughter]
While Oprah stood off in the wings of the TCA stage during the panel and was heard laughing along with the crowd at Rosie’s wit, the out activist talked about her plan for what the show will be and even commented on how the state of reality TV should help her reach her goal and, in her explanation, made the sole mention of her divorce from ex-wife Kelli Carpenter.
What I am hoping to do, and I think what I will do, is make an entertaining, enjoyable show that people will want to tune in with multi-generations. It’s at a great time, 7 o’clock, where you can sit down with your whole family before your viewing night begins, and I think that we found a way to do that. The success of reality TV has really influenced the way we all watch TV and what we’re expecting, so we’re going to have a reality concept integrated with the talk show concept, not a Garry Shandling type, fake scripted way, but in an actual way where we are going to show you what it takes. I think part of the reason that people liked my first show is they saw me love things, things like other celebrities, things like little children who came on, things like my family, so now, I think, by doing a little bit of a behind-the-scenes incorporated in the show, you’re going to get to see how I do that with my actual staff. You’re going to get to see what it feels like to be 50 years old, moved to another city, to be divorced, which I never thought I would be, to have one child living with me and another child living at school. It wasn’t what I thought my life would be, and I think that’s the truth for most people who are 50. You got a game plan. You got a blueprint in your 20s or you’re in your 30s, and by the time you get to 50, you’re like holy crap, I didn’t expect these kinds of turns.
When asked about some of the celebrities she’d like to have on the show, Rosie was quick to bring up two popular names in the entertainment field right now.
First week, I hope we get Russell Brand. I love the guy. I didn’t really know anything about him. He hosted the MTV Awards. I thought, “He’s not very funny. Who is he?” And then I watched him do a comedy special about hosting those awards and it was the most brilliant thing I’d ever seen in my life. Then I started Googling him and found out who he was in England and what happened with him, and he did an interview on the BBC that was possibly the most introspective and precise and exact discussion about fame and its effect on your personality and your world and your life that I had ever seen anywhere. And then by chance, three months ago, I bumped into him at the airport, and he is shooting a move in Miami, so I’ve been spending time with him in Miami, and I find him fascinating. So he would be on an entire show… maybe the singer Adele, who I think is epic and gorgeous and fantastic and so positive for women in every way, that she would be the guest.
Regardless of how the show shapes and forms over the next couple of months before The Rosie Show’s October 10 debut, one thing for sure is that it will be good to have our old friend back on televisions every day.