powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


Gotta sing, gotta dance. But nearing her first prime-time variety special, Rosie O'Donnell of course slings opinions, too

Rosie O'Donnell: Deja View and in NBC publicity pic for Rosie Live.

Her mouth still roars, even if next week's NBC special is Rosie O'Donnell's attempt to resurrect the apolitical variety shows she devoured as a kid.

"There's not going to be any talks about Vietnam or Guantanamo Bay," O'Donnell says of the one-hour Rosie Live, airing on Wednesday, Nov. 26th (7 p.m. central). "There's not going to be a production number on torture."

Instead it'll be a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants, to quote The Mary Tyler Moore Show's famed "Chuckles the Clown" episode.

Moore, it should be noted, tried and very much failed to succeed with a subsequent prime-time variety hour whose 1978 repertory company included the then mostly unknown trio of David Letterman, Michael Keaton and Swoosie Kurtz.

O'Donnell, plans to welcome Liza Minnelli, Alec Baldwin, Alanis Morrissette, Gloria Estefan, Kathy Griffin, Jane Krakowski and perhaps a surprise guest or two to Broadway's Little Shubert Theatre. One of them won't be Donald Trump, with whom she famously feuded during her dying days on The View.

"I think we can accurately say 'Never,' " O'Donnell says during an expansive one-hour teleconference with TV critics.

She insisted on doing the show live, with the understanding that NBC would order a minimum of six more hours if the Nielsen ratings click their heels on a show that will "be chock full of dancing boys and girls from Broadway."

"We're sort of having friends who want to come and play, without anything to promote," O'Donnell adds. "To sing a song, do a skit, do a joke. It's going to be a throwback to the time when those shows were hot."

It's been awhile. NBC's Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters was the last variety show with any staying power. And it only lasted from 1980-'82. Otherwise The Carol Burnett Show was the last of the giants, brightening CBS's prime-time lineup from 1967-'79 before living on via a series of ratings-rich reunion specials.

O'Donnell says she watched 'em all, and thinks the timing is right for a rebirth. Variety shows were "an addiction in the '70s when the economy was in the crapper," she says.

In that context it seems like old times as jobless rates grow, stock prices shrink and retirement funds play dead.

"I think the economy has made it so that people are staying home more," O'Donnell reasons. "We've watched celebrities go to rehab and be stoned out of their minds on their own reality shows. So it's time for a change. I've never been for humiliation television."

She says that includes Fox's American Idol, ABC's Dancing with the Stars, NBC's America's Got Talent and other talent competitions whose judges let 'er rip.

O'Donnell doesn't like this, even though most viewers apparently do. Maybe that's why her overriding pitch for Rosie Live -- "Imagine if you took out the judging and put even more talented people on!" -- went unanswered until NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman finally bit. O'Donnell thinks it might be because Silverman told her his mother was a big fan of her old syndicated daytime talk show, which O'Donnell self-canceled in May 2002.

"I thought I had 'Career Achievement' completed" with The Rosie O'Donnell Show, she says. Talking to a who's who of big-name stars was "like being at the all-you-can-eat buffet."

But she bit when ABC's Barbara Walters and The View came calling. O'Donnell's subsequent abrupt departure, in May 2007, came after her outspoken political views led to feuds with Trump and conservative co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck among others.

"After I left the show, I couldn't watch it," O'Donnell says. "It would almost be like post-traumatic stress disorder." In her view, "When your own team doesn't support you, it's time to take off the uniform."

She compares Walters to the mom who wants everyone to co-exist happily on Thanksgiving and other big family holidays: "No matter what, Barbara wants everyone to think and act as though they get along. But that's not the reality . . . For me what happened on the show was a personal argument with a friend (Walters) that was publicly displayed. I didn't want to be paid to fight."

Walters' recent bestselling autobiography says little about the backstage realities of The View. So O'Donnell fills in more blanks. "I wasn't happy that I did not have control of the show," she says, referring to the autonomy she had as executive producer and star of The Rosie O'Donnell Show. "It was a very difficult transition for me to make. When you're the shortstop on the team, you don't get to be the coach. I did enjoy the program right up until the day it all went crazy."

O'Donnell, 46, married the former Kelli Carpenter, who has taken her surname, on Feb. 26, 2004 during a San Francisco ceremony that later was ruled invalid by the California Supreme Court. She's mostly been publicly mum on recent events in California, where voters supported Proposition 8's overturning of a more recent state Supreme Court ruling that recognized same-sex marriages.

"I don't think there's anybody in the country who doesn't know I'm for gay marriage," O'Donnell says. "I was surprised when people said I'm not vocal enough. I got married before anyone else did."

Rosie and Kelli, who has a degree from Dallas-based Southern Methodist University, are now parenting four children. The youngest, Vivienne, was birthed by Kelli on Nov. 29, 2002.

O'Donnell says she's "not so hung up" on using the word "marriage" to define gay partnerships. For her it's far less important than the rights of children under such unions.

On election day, "I was so overwhelmed and afraid that my dream for the nation would fall short of reality," she says of Barack Obama's election. "It's almost as if the last eight years have been some sort of bad dream."

"George Bush as the president has lowered the bar as to what's intellectually acceptable, especially on TV," O'Donnell adds. "Also we have to hold the media responsible. For the last years they've kind of dropped the ball."

Obviously she hasn't stifled herself. But with Rosie Live, she supposedly will. No politics, O'Donnell pledges. Just old-school song, dance and comedy, starting with an opening duet she'll do with Minnelli.

"I think America's ready," O'Donnell says. Take that any way you'd like.