Last week, OWN announced that they’d be ceasing production on Rosie O’Donnell’s new talk show, The Rosie Show. After nearly a six month run (with a few weeks of reruns in there), the last episode taped this week. It wasn’t much of a shock. The Rosie Show was averaging around 230,000 viewers – a pretty big drop from the 500,000 viewers it garnered when it premiered back in October.
So what went wrong?
Well for one, it’s clear that America still has some pretty mixed opinions of Rosie. When she rose to fame on the early 90s with her first talk show, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, Rosie quickly became known as the “Queen of Nice.” Funny, fresh, and positive, she was everybody’s best friend. But when she ended her show in 2002, Rosie’s longtime battle with depression seemed to win out. She produced a Broadway musical, Taboo, which flopped amongst a sea of controversy. Her outspoken political opinions polarized audiences during her year-long stint on The View, where she basically started feuds with Donald Trump, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and most of America. By the time she left that show, she had a reputation for being mean, erratic, and a bit of a bully.
But for those who stuck by Rosie (and I’m very much one of those people) never thought she was a bully. Opinionated? Yes. Brash? Yes. But those were never negative things. We love the complexity of Rosie, illustrated so clearly in her autobiography Celebrity Detox (wait, I’m the only one who read that? Oh…). Or the silliness of Rosie, on display on her NBC variety show (wait, I’m the only one who watched that? Oh…). It’s the reason we’ve still followed her throughout the years. She’s a celebrity who’s not afraid to be human. To be fun and flawed. To change and grow – and not in superficial ways either. And in this day in age, that’s rare.
But for that sort of a figure, The Rosie Show was not initially the best vehicle. The show started off as a talk show/game show hybrid. Each episode featured big audiences, celebrities, music, comedy, giveaways – and lots of lots of confetti. It was fun (I even named it one of the Best of 2011). But it was a little disjointed. There was no balance between the opening monologue and the celebrity interviews and the daily game shows. Everything felt rushed. You could tell that Rosie felt uncomfortable with the format. Like she was trying to be someone she wasn’t.
In January, they made massive changes to The Rosie Show. The audience? Out. The games? Out. The opening monologue? Out. We lost the beloved announcer Holly to someone named “Google Pete,” who would read Tweets to Rosie from time to time. The set went from a large, modern, blue/purple stage with big LCD screens to a small, knickknack-filled, colorful craft room modeled after Andy Cohen’s “clubhouse” on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live. More importantly, the conversations with celebrities shifted – from funny promotional visits to serious one-on-one conversations about important topics.
It wasn’t that there wasn’t value in the new format. The conversations Rosie had with celebrities were often so powerful, a one-on-one format was the only setting that would do. One must only look to the Chelsea Handler interview, in which Handler spoke frankly about her multiple abortions and harmful childhood, for proof. Rosie one-on-one, with the right star, works. The problem was, not every star was worthy of the serious format (I point to Kendra from The Girls Next Door and Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser as perfect examples or guest who could have used an audience in whom to play off.
The other problem was, the second Rosie removed the audience from her studio, she isolated the audience from her show. It was like she completely overlooked her biggest talent: the way she interacts with everyday people. The opening monologue and the “Ask the Audience” segments? That’s where The Rosie Show shined. Rosie is approachable. She’s conversational. You got the feeling like you would have the same interaction with her if you stopped her in the mall than you would if you went on her show. And to take that all away and turn the show into a Pierce Morgan Tonight-style show? On a really ugly, distracting set? That just wasn’t going to work.
Rosie has often said that she could never go back and do a show like The Rosie O’Donnell Show again. That back then, she was in her mid-30s and now she’s 50 and that’s not the sort of thing she wants to do anymore. I respect her for that. It’s clear The Rosie Show started off as an attempt to rekindle that flame, and when she tried to shift gears on us, we couldn’t keep up. I hope Rosie finds a way to do a show that really speaks to her talent and her interests. But The Rosie show certainly wasn’t it.