O'Donnell to depart show in mid-June

With Rosie O’Donnell on her way out, “The View” can do what it intended to do last summer: Replace Meredith Vieira.

When Vieira departed for NBC’s “Today,” it left the show without the moderator who would introduce topics, guide the conversation and, at times, step aside.

O’Donnell stepped into Vieira’s role in name and made “The View” controversial and relevant, but she was as much bomb thrower as mediator, and her presence was so provocative it threatened to tear the show apart.

Now “The View” is faced with starting over with one and possibly two big signings before the fall. It needs a moderator and possibly a replacement for Star Jones, who was never permanently replaced when she was ousted last spring.

“One thing I would tell them not to do is try to replace Rosie; she’s a unique personality,” said syndication expert Bill Carroll, VP of Katz Television Group. “If they go back and replace the moderator position on the show — fortunately or unfortunately — they need to go high profile with the same skill sets as Vieira.”

Far from tarnished, O’Donnell leaves the show as one of the hottest properties in television. She’s one of few with the proven ability to get ratings in daytime, so the door is open for the second coming of “Rosie” in syndication in fall 2008.

Execs at Buena Vista Television and Warner Bros. have been preselling the concept to station groups for months. The only question that remains is if O’Donnell would make the lifestyle sacrifice to do her own show.

Sources close to O’Donnell said her year on “The View” had been particularly taxing to her family and made it difficult to be a parent to her four children. Asked today, they said, the answer would be no.

But O’Donnell represents some intriguing possibilities for TV. She could migrate to primetime as a host of a reality or gameshow, or even jump to cable, where her political opinions would be welcome.

Because of a first-look clause, Buena Vista gets the first crack. Warners will be waiting in the wings, and CBS Paramount is also said to be interested.

Stations will be wary of her sharp political views. On Wednesday, she called for the impeachment of President Bush and veep Dick Cheney.

But too many local stations are starved in key dayparts not to listen to the pitch. NBC affiliates, in particular, have space to fill in daytime with the departure of “Passions.” “Ellen” hasn’t been as successful at 4 p.m. in some major markets, such as New York City’s WNBC.

“A highly political show would be scary for some,” said Garnet Losak, VP of programming for Petry Media. “But I think there would be a station in every market that would take her show under any circumstances.”

“The View” creator Barbara Walters was no doubt grateful the show could regain its buzz after many years of sliding in the ratings, but O’Donnell’s presence put her in some awkward positions.

On Monday, Walters jumped to the defense of Rupert Murdoch after a typical O’Donnell tirade at the New York Women in Communications Luncheon in Gotham.

“I would like to point out that Rosie’s view is not always mine,” she said. “I would like to say for the record I am very fond of Rupert Murdoch.”

O’Donnell also grabbed her crotch, saying Donald Trump could “bite me,” taking the perpetual feud between the two to a new low. Seated at a table in the audience, Walters could barely disguise her dismay.

Tensions between Walters and O’Donnell nearly exploded in December when Walters read a retraction of some of O’Donnell’s comments about Trump on the air while O’Donnell was on vacation.

A reported dust-up in the green room followed when O’Donnell accused Walters of not coming to her defense fast enough in the Trump feud.

O’Donnell was in talks with ABC to extend her one-year deal during the latest flap. O’Donnell said she wanted a one-year extension; ABC had wanted a three-year deal.

Perhaps conveniently, talks broke down, leaving “The View” without its provocateur and ratings draw, but also without the increasingly unpredictable presence O’Donnell had become.

Judging from the news coverage Wednesday, ABC will continue to benefit from the Rosie effect. Fox News, whose hosts have long targeted O’Donnell, devoted much of its coverage to analyzing the future of “The View.”

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