Chicago Tribune 10.10.11

Retooled Rosie hopes to keep eyes riveted

O'Donnell says new show marks 'actual' beginning for Oprah Winfrey Network

October 10, 2011|By Nina Metz, Tribune reporter

When "The Rosie Show" debuts with guest Russell Brand at 6 p.m. Monday on the Oprah Winfrey Network, it will be a rebooting of sorts for the cable network.

"They launched the network in January, I think, to take advantage of the fact that (Winfrey) was still on every day," host Rosie O'Donnell said last week from her offices at Harpo Studios on the Near West Side, where she will tape her new weekday talk show.

But Winfrey, of course, was still wrapping up the final season of her syndicated talk show, which ended in May. The hope is that O'Donnell's show will infuse new energy into the struggling OWN lineup. "Now that (Winfrey) does have the ability to focus on the network, it's almost as though she's just beginning now," O'Donnell said. She called the show Winfrey's "first endeavor as a full-time participant" with OWN. "So I think for Oprah and for the network, we do start on Monday. We begin the actual, real launch. It was sort of a soft launch in January, and now we begin again."

Discovery Communications, which is a part-owner of OWN with Harpo, reportedly has spent $200 million to fund the channel. It will air Monday's episode of "The Rosie Show" on TLC, Investigation Discovery, Discovery Fit & Health and Planet Green as well as on OWN in an effort to boost the show's exposure, followed by the debut broadcast of "Oprah's Lifeclass," a program that will repackage footage from "The Oprah Winfrey Show," with new introductions from Winfrey.

"For her to not only ask me to be on her network but for her to also give me her studio, her staff, her buildings and welcome me to her city?" O'Donnell said, marveling at the turn of events. "She is totally the mayor of the city, the emotional mayor, because everywhere I go, people are like, 'Hey, Rosie, thanks for coming here. Hey, Ro, how you doing?' I have yet to pay for a meal in any restaurant … and it's all really because of the goodwill that (Winfrey has) garnered for over two decades here. And so she has set me up in a way that few ever get to (experience), with a generosity that's not often found in Hollywood."

Featuring a seasoned talk-show host in her own right — "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" ran in syndication from 1996 to 2002; O'Donnell also served as moderator on "The View" from 2006-07 — the new show on OWN looks to follow a template similar to late-night talk shows.

That wasn't the original plan. Before OWN, O'Donnell had been mulling over a contract from NBC to do a daytime talk show.

"And then that whole thing happened with Conan (O'Brien) and I was like, that is some pretty snarky behavior there by a network," O'Donnell said. She called her agent and asked if Winfrey might be interested in her services for OWN. "But agents never really care about your emotional desires. You make a lot more money on network TV than you do on cable, but to me it wasn't ever about the money."

When O'Donnell signed with OWN, executives envisioned a single-topic show that would air in Winfrey's old time slot. But according to O'Donnell, by July they decided the network needed more comedy in the lineup, and the show was revamped.

Mondays through Thursdays "The Rosie Show" will tape in Chicago, with episodes airing the same day. "Sort of like (Jay) Leno and (David) Letterman do it," O'Donnell said, "so that you can be current and germane to what happened in the world." Each show will start with O'Donnell standing at a microphone doing a monologue (which will also incorporate questions from the audience), followed by a celebrity interview, possibly a human-interest story segment, and then end with a game show element. (The show will air 6 p.m. weekdays, with repeats at 10 p.m. and the following day at 3 p.m.)

Topical issues will be addressed, though not in the gladiatorial fashion of her last gig, on "The View," where "the nature of that show was controversy," she said. "I think on this program we're going to have the time and the space to go in-depth about things that we feel and think, and offer a place for people who disagree but without the antagonism and the vitriol that sometimes appeared on the other program."

"The Rosie Show" will feature a live band in studio, led by Katreese Barnes, the former "Saturday Night Live" associate music director who won an Emmy a few years back as the co-writer of "D--- in a Box" — "Which I don't like to say in public, but that's what she did," O'Donnell said. More than once. It's the joke that keeps on giving.

On Fridays, the show will mirror Winfrey's brief but zeitgeist-capturing "Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes," which aired on OWN during the final months of Winfrey's syndicated talk show and detailed the making of key episodes.