“The View” without Rosie O’Donnell? That’s like thunder without lightning. Sturm without Drang. Sanjaya without a weird hairdo. How will the daytime world adjust?
O’Donnell announced on Wednesday’s edition of “The View” that she’s leaving behind her day-to-day hosting duties as of June. But she assured the audience that she’s leaving of her own accord, and not being shoved out the door by Barbara Walters or ABC executives after a eight months of relentless controversy.
“They’re not kicking me out,” said O’Donnell, who said that she could not come to terms with ABC over the terms of her new contract. “They wanted me three years, I wanted one year ... and it just didn’t work and that’s just show biz. And it’s not sad, because I’ve loved it here and I love you guys and I’m not going away.”
“This is not my doing and not my choice,” said a somber-looking Barbara Walters, a co-host and one of the executive producers of the show. “We have had, to say the least, an interesting year. ...You will be missed.”
O’Donnell said she will return to guest host and do specials on subjects like autism and depression. “I’m just not going to do the everyday thing,” she said.
“It’s been a riot and I’ve had a good time,” she noted.
From the moment she joined the show, the outspoken O’Donnell has been lightning rod for critics and the subject of an almost weekly controversy. What else did we expect from a woman who, in the course of telling a story about bathing her daughter, managed to refer to her private bodily areas in her first few minutes as a “View” co-host?
There was a blaring franticness to O’Donnell’s first weeks on “The View” that was positively headache-inducing. In a previous piece, I compared watching those early shows to “being locked in a cage with a troop of howler monkeys,” and though the show became slightly less frenetic over time, the Rosie controversies just kept coming.
She tangled again and again with conservative “View” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck over political issues, she took “American Idol” to task over what she called its racism and “weightism,” she outraged Asian-Americans with a tasteless “ching-chong” imitation of “Chinese” speech, and she accused talk-show host Kelly Ripa of homophobia when Ripa objected to Clay Aiken putting his hand over her mouth.
Just this week she came under fire for “using bad language” about media titan Rupert Murdoch at a New York awards luncheon, according to CNN.
But O’Donnell’s most blistering feud was - and is - with Donald Trump. In December, at the height of a controversy over Miss USA Tara Conner, O’Donnell weighed in. Trump went nuclear as only he can, calling her a laundry list of ugly names in an anti-Rosie media blitz that lasted for weeks.
Trump wasted no time in blasting O’Donnell once again on Wednesday, when he appeared on Fox News Channel’s “American Newsroom.”
“Well, I’m not surprised,” Trump blustered. “Rosie’s a very self-destructive person, she’s a loser by any standard, I mean she’s got nothing going for her. Frankly, her ratings were really the best when she was attacking me and I was attacking her. That feud got her good ratings, which I knew it would, but I really had no choice but to attack her because she is a slob and she deserved to be attacked.”
“Rosie made Barbara look like a fool; she made her look like her lapdog,” Trump also said. “Barbara’s the happiest person in the world that Rosie’s been fired. Barbara can say what she wants and of course she’s trying to put the most positive spin on it, but it’s nothing short of getting fired and in my opinion she’s fired because of the statements she made” at the awards luncheon.
Trump is right about one thing: O’Donnell did raise “The View’s” ratings. According to CNN, the daytime chatfest’s ratings were 15 percent higher in key demographics during February sweeps than they had been the year before.
But he may be wrong about another thing: He predicted that if O’Donnell got her own daytime show, as is rumored to be a possibility for 2008, it would fail. Most new daytime shows do fail, but O’Donnell has name recognition going for her, and she certainly brought a lot of people to “The View” to see what she would say or do next.
I don’t agree with everything Rosie did during her tenure on “The View”: Calling others racist and intolerant, then turning around and mocking an ethnic group is the height of hypocrisy. She had a tendency to steamroll her fellow hosts and dominate the conversations during discussions of current events, and she had a manic, frantic side to her that could make interviews with “View” guests less than pleasant.
Still, I give her this: She stirred the pot. She got our attention. She didn’t shy away from stating her beliefs. In the post-Don Imus era—and let’s be clear, CBS and NBC were right to fire Imus—her big mouth might have been viewed by some at ABC as a liability.
But daytime shows, for all their focus on fluff and celebrity promotion, can be about something real, on occasion. Oprah Winfrey, to her credit, devoted two recent hours to the use of offensive words and images in rap lyrics and videos. Daytime isn’t always about celebrities flogging their latest project. Done right, it can, in its own small way, further public debates and air out issues that need to be aired out.
Even Hasselbeck had to admit that O’Donnell brought something valuable to “The View.”
“I just feel like we had such good conversations and you’re ... such a catalyst,” Hasselback said Wednesday. “I think that because of you, we’ve really just taken off the shackles and really just had some purely honest conversations here.”
There was value in that. And lastly, I must say, anyone who gets The Donald that riled up had to be doing something right.