TV's variety show genre basically dried up after the 1970s, and although some recent reality competitions -- "Dancing With the Stars," "American Idol," "America's Got Talent" -- share some DNA with variety shows, few celebrities have attempted a variety show revival.
Rosie O'Donnell has been trying to launch a live, prime-time variety show since 2002 and tomorrow on NBC, she'll accomplish that goal.
"It's 'Carol Burnett' meets 'Ed Sullivan,' 'Sonny and Cher,' 'Donny and Marie,' all rolled into one," O'Donnell said in a conference call with reporters last week. "Rosie Live" will feature song-and-dance routines, live from a Broadway theater, with some comedy segments as well. Scheduled guest stars include Alec Baldwin, Kathy Griffin, Jane Krakowski, Alanis Morissette, Ne-Yo, Gloria Estefan and Liza Minnelli, who will sing the show's opening number with O'Donnell.
- When: 8 p.m. tomorrow, WPXI
"It's going to be a song you haven't heard her sing in about 30 years, and it's a song that I grew up singing very loud on the shag rug in my living room, pretending to, you know, be her friend and dance with her," O'Donnell said. "And now the dream is coming true 30 years later."
Although O'Donnell is most recently remembered for the opinions she espoused during a yearlong stint on ABC's "The View," "Rosie Live" will share more in common with "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," the daytime chat show that aired from 1996-2002. Her goal for "Rosie Live": "To give people an hour to forget about their troubles, to have an hour of fun, laughter and singing and dancing, no politics, no arguing, no talking about controversial things.
"There's not going to be a production number about torture," she quipped.
O'Donnell thinks the timing may be right for a variety show comeback because, just as during their '70s heyday, the economy is in turmoil. She also sees the pure variety format as an antidote to reality competition series in prime time, which she considers "The Gong Show" of the variety genre.
"To me there's nothing fun about gonging someone who is actually really trying," she said. "There's nothing fun about the audition segments of 'American Idol' to see people brought to tears and humiliated."
If "Rosie Live" is successful in the ratings this week, she said NBC has the option of picking the show up in batches of six weeks of episodes, beginning as early as late January.
On the same call, O'Donnell answered questions about her tenure on "The View," which ended after an on-air fight with Elisabeth Hasselbeck over O'Donnell's contention that Hasselbeck failed to defend O'Donnell over media characterizations of some of her comments on the chat show. O'Donnell said "View" host/executive producer Barbara Walters "wants everyone to believe and think and act as if everybody gets along and is really good friends and happy and hangs out together.
"It's just not the reality," O'Donnell said. "I'm not saying that they loathe each other. But the fact is there wasn't a lot of camaraderie off-camera there. ... And that's not saying that you can't work with people and have a relationship that" is somewhat contentious.
The day after the O'Donnell teleconference last week, Walters used her bully pulpit of "The View" to respond: "There are some people who have done this show and then for years feel they have to dump on it, maybe for publicity, and that not only hurts me, but I resent it."
It's probably a safe bet that Walters won't show up on "Rosie Live" tomorrow, and O'Donnell doesn't plan to invite celebrities with a new film/book/CD/TV show to promote, either.
"We're booking people who are friends, who want to come play and have fun," she said. "It's not a promotional vehicle. I find that the shows that do have celebrities now, you find the same interview rehashed over and over."
This first "Rose Live" won't feature sketches like Burnett's "Mama's Family." Instead Krakowski and Griffin will participate in prepared comedic banter.
With "30 Rock" stars Baldwin and Krakowski visiting "Rosie Live," O'Donnell said she'd be game to return the favor and appear on the NBC sitcom.
"I would do anything because I think ['30 Rock' star Tina Fey] should be given some sort of Nobel Peace Prize for her Palin impression, which I think helped Obama win," O'Donnell said. "She's probably done the most for the nation of any female comic in the history of the world."
One guest who's unlikely to ever make an appearance on "Rosie Live"? Donald Trump.
"I know they say, 'Never say never,' but as far as my show is concerned, I think we can adequately and accurately say never," she said.
O'Donnell and Trump have slammed each other in the media in recent years.
"He is going to exist in his world and, you know, throw mud at me when he needs to," O'Donnell said. "And I will smile and wink and throw some back. And that's going to be that.
"The great part about having a celebrity fight is that your publicists really get to do it for you. You never have to interact with the human being you're having the feud with."