Photo by Robert Trachtenberg and courtesy of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network
Rosie O’Donnell has been back on the air for a little over a week and so far so good. Her much anticipated talk show on OWN will make old school fans of Rosie so very happy. There’s the requisite amount of stand-up, singing and good solid celebrity chatting. Plus the Rosie we all love is back. She seems to be in a happier place. And the addition of audience Q&A and game show segments, make The Rosie Show feel like a party. In a recent conference call interview the Queen of Nice talked about how things have metamorphosed since her last television show.
Rosie reflected on the way television has evolved since she had her last talk show. “It's changed completely. It's done a 360. It's not the same landscape in any capacity. When I started in 1996, I went to the NATPE conference and had to convince people that I was not going to do a Jerry Springer-type show. I had to literally sit down with station owners and advertisers and tell them, ‘No, I was going to do Merv Griffin.’ And the philosophy at the time was ‘That will never work,’ because what was number-one in daytime in '96 or what was drawing all of the media attention at least — a ‘Jenny Jones’ guest had been murdered and Geraldo Rivera had his nose broken.”
She recalled, “That's when I entered into the foray, so I was dubbed the Queen of Nice. Comparatively I was, because what we were seeing was violence on a daily basis. So with the exception of Oprah, there was no other show on TV that was putting forth messages of positivity back in 1996. So it was a whole different game.”
She also noted that advances in technology have influenced the modern television landscape, which was not true when she started out. She recounted, “The Internet was not yet flourishing. I remember having meetings with Warner Bros. and saying to them, ‘Can we do an Internet component?’ And they're like, ‘People don't have computers.’ And they later bought AOL — that was a problem. But they didn't really understand the Internet and the way that media is now consumed by the average person at home.”
She explained what she believes fans expect these days. “They want their celebrities accessible. There was no Perez Hilton then, there was no TMZ, there was no media Internet pop culture forum like there is now.”
And the fact that the cable and online markets are ever expanding also has a noticeable effect to Rosie. She remarked, “There's such fractured viewing styles in the afternoon — used to be you really had three options. You were going ABC, NBC or CBS. You were either going to watch game shows, talk shows or soap operas, and that was it. But it's changed completely now.”
Rosie noted that this is especially true for the younger generation. She acknowledged, “For kids under the age of 18, they don't know the difference between network TV and cable TV. My children think that Animal Planet is as big of a network as NBC or CBS. They don't have any idea how to differentiate between the two, and I think that that's the vast majority of people now watching or consuming entertainment in any form. So I think it's a whole different world, it's a whole different game.”
For her part, Rosie’s thrilled to be on the field and playing for what’s certain to the winning side. She confessed, “To be back in the game with a Oprah Winfrey jersey on is inspiring for me, to be on her team, to be playing for her side, to know what she's about and that she's not simply a corporation with a bottom line of financial gain. She's a woman who has spent her life trying to enlighten, encourage and teach. And I agree with who she is as a public figure and what she has done with her power and ability. And it's an honor to be in the game on her side.”
Plus Rosie’s in a different phase of her life. She explained her personal evolution in show business. She looked back at where she was at when her first show started. “I was 33 years old with a baby who was not yet walking, and that kid is now six-foot-one, 220 pounds, and away at school... I was fascinated by celebrity and pop culture and the concept that I could know people like Tom Cruise or Barbra Streisand seemed unreal to me. Now I had done movies with some famous people, but just to sort of casually know and befriend people who I do not work with and can be sort of part of that whole thing was intoxicating.”
She reflected on the position she is in now, adding, “At 50, I’ve lived in show business for more than half my life, and I have a different take on it, on what’s important and what I value and what I think needs to be shown to the American public, and also what the American public seems hungry for.”
She revealed a bit of what she wants to discuss on The Rosie Show. “We’re oversaturated with pop culture and with image, and we really want some more of the gritty underbelly, as opposed to polished veneer. And that’s what we’re going for on this show — just real conversation in the style more of Dick Cavett than a Charlie Rose, but with humor. More than just a buh-duh-bump-shhh, we’re out, here’s the clip, and we’re done. I did that once, and I’m ready for something else, so you’re totally right about that.”
So far so good. Tune in to The Rosie Show at 7 p.m. EST/6 p.m. Central every Monday through Friday on OWN.