by Jennifer Squires Biller
I spoke with Rosie O’Donnell today on a conference call to discuss her upcoming Rosie Live variety television special.
First of all, she was delightful, sticking around to answer all the questions from inquisitive journalists. (New York Post, did you really need to have three reporters ask questions? Geesh! Give the rest of us a chance.)
Second, she loved the name of my Web site, Tube Talk, which endeared her to me from the get go. (At first, she thought it was named Tube Top, so that was a funny moment. You can hear the hilarious exchange for yourself at the end of the blog post in a brand new audio feature.)
Not only did O’Donnell dish the scoop on her upcoming variety show special, she talked about her difficult time on The View, mentioned her old talk show and that infamous heated interview with Tom Selleck, and even discussed politics. “Variety” indeed.
Yes, Rosie is headed back to television. For how long, depends on ratings for her upcoming variety show. If ratings are high, NBC will order six more episodes, O’Donnell said. If those go well, then NBC can renew the show in cycles of six, she said.
Rosie Live is an old-style variety show, the kind many of us TV addicts grew up watching, including O’Donnell. Think Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, and Carol Burnett, all inspirations for the show.
Rosie gave me an exclusive piece of scoop for Tube Talk, since she loved the name of my Web site so much (thank you Rosie!): Gloria Estefan will be stopping by the variety special. As previously reported, also on board for the show are Alec Baldwin, Liza Minnelli, Jane Krakowski, Kathy Griffin, Alanis Morissette, Ne-Yo and plenty of Broadway actors.
Minnelli and O’Donnell will open the show with a duet, she said. It’s a song from The Act and one that Minnelli hasn’t sung in 30 years.
“It was a song I grew up singing and now the dream is coming true,” O’Donnell said. “She’s showbiz royalty.”
The format for Rosie Live is scripted comedy bits, with the celebrity guests playing themselves, a comedy sketch with Rosie dressed as a policeman and plenty of musical numbers.
What viewers won’t see is Rosie espousing her political views. This show is “to give people an hour to forget about their troubles,” O’Donnell said. Considering the current state of the world, I think the timing is perfect for an old-school variety show. So does O’Donnell, who likened the current environment to that of the ‘70s when variety shows were popular.
“It’s the right time,” she said. “Variety shows were a big hit in the ‘70s when the economy was in the crapper, and gasoline was scarce, and people’s belief in the political system was shaky.”
As for The View, O’Donnell said she rarely watches the show and is still unhappy with how her stint ended.
“After I left the show, I couldn’t watch it. I had so many mixed emotions. It would just be almost like post-traumatic stress disorder. Every time I would turn it on I would have mild panic and have to turn it off. Truly I haven’t watched it,” she said.
“Having been there and having seen what goes on behind the curtain, it’s a different experience to watch it than as an average viewer,” she said. "No matter what Barbara (Walters) wants everyone to believe, and think and act as if everybody there gets along and is really good friends... it's just not the reality. I’m not saying they loathe each other... The fact is there wasn’t a lot of camaraderie off camera there…That’s not saying you can’t work with people and have a relationship.”
As for that infamous argument with co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck about the war in Iraq, it’s still upsetting to O’Donnell that it played out on live television.
"For me what happened on the show was a personal argument with a friend that was publicly displayed... I didn't want to be paid to fight. When I started and took that job it was with the intent of speaking for the millions of mothers whose voices weren't represented on television," she said… "I’m not proud of the arguing and the fighting.”
After being the boss of her own talk show, it was tough not having control of The View, O’Donnell said.
“It was Barbara Walters and Bill Geddes’ program... I was not the boss, and I did find that difficult,” she said. “I did enjoy the program right up until the day it all went crazy…I did it for a year and I thought it was really great, right up until the day it went off the track. When you're on a football team and your own team won't support you, and your own guy tackles you, it's time to take off the uniform."
O’Donnell also discussed how much she loved her former self-titled talk show and that she didn’t argue politics on it with the exception of that infamous fight with Tom Selleck about guns. “It was a sad day for both of us, I’m sure,” she said.
During the conference call, journalists were limited to one question and a follow up. And for all my readers who love her character Dawn Budge on Nip/Tuck, I asked if we’d see her again on the show. O’Donnell hopes so, she said. So do I.
If you don’t want to wait for the new season of Nip/Tuck, you can get catch O’Donnell this Wednesday in her variety special. Personally, I can’t wait. Long time readers of this column, dating back to its early days as a print newspaper column, know I’ve been a fan of O’Donnell’s for many years. I loved the Rosie O’Donnell Show so much I taped every episode. So, to say I’m excited to see her back on television in a format that doesn’t involve arguing and politics is my very own little Christmas present.
Rosie Live will air Wednesday, November 26, (the night before Thanksgiving) at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
(When the window opens, click on “rosieinterview.wav” and “open.” It will take a couple seconds to load. This is my first attempt at including audio in a post, so please let me know if you’re having trouble hearing it. The audio worked fine for me in Windows Media Player.)
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
by Jennifer Squires Biller