Rosie O’Donnell had been out of the public eye for several years when she accepted an offer from Barbara Walters to join “The View” last fall, and few knew what to expect from the one-time “queen of nice.”
What they got was O’Donnell unfiltered, unpredictable and unafraid to express opinions and take on the likes of Donald Trump and President Bush. Her seat-of-the-pants moxie and frequent run-ins with her more conservative “View” counterpart Elizabeth Hasselbeck delivered the show its highest ratings in a decade.
But even O’Donnell was surprised at how much controversy she stirred up. “I grew up watching ‘Donahue,’ where all kinds of opinions were allowed and encouraged,” she tells Variety via email. “It feels like the 1950s — in many ways we have gone backwards as a society.”
Far from scaring away would-be employers, O’Donnell has become one of TV’s most sought-after, if volatile, free agents, and one of few personalities with a track record of ratings success in daytime television. There isn’t a network that doesn’t want to have a conversation with O’Donnell, and so far talks have included everything from primetime cable to hosting the “Price Is Right,” a gig that she seemed to alternately court and shy away from (Drew Carry was ultimately hired).
The sticking point is that O’Donnell doesn’t want to get back into the daily grind of a syndicated show. “I’m getting a clearer sense of what I don’t want to do,” she says. “I feel too old and busy as a mom to do a daily show.” When she does figure out her next move, one can only assume she’ll be able to call the shots.
Recent breakthrough: Boosted “The View’s” ratings to all-time highs. And, according to People.com, Renaissance Village, a camp her foundation built for Hurricane Katrina evacuees in October, is “the most fulfilling thing I have ever done in my career.”
Role model: Jimmy Carter. “He is to me a Christlike figure on this earth,” according to her blog.
Career mantra: “Just the truth and having fun; staying present and real.”
What’s next: “Carol Burnett-meets-Ed Sullivan once a week has always been a dream. (Also,) like everyone else in Hollywood, I would one day like to direct.”