O’Donnell plans for daytime return

New show would focus on host's charitable, political causes

While Rosie O’Donnell wants back into the syndication world, it remains unclear whether she will be welcomed back by stations, advertisers and viewers.

O’Donnell has joined forces with former Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution execs Dick Robertson and Scott Carlin to form a new company and simultaneously launch a brand-new daytime yakker, several online sites reported over the weekend.

According to insiders familiar with the project in the works, a new O’Donnell show would focus on the host’s charitable and political pet causes. As a result, it isn’t expected to emulate the original “Rosie O’Donnell Show.”

Television executives, though positive about an O’Donnell comeback, have raised questions about the focus of the show, its financing and competition among many others anxious to fill the void being left by Oprah Winfrey’s decision to end her run.

“They’ll pitch this as the second coming,” one TV industry vet said, adding that there would be much interest “if she wanted to do the old kind of show. But many stations won’t go near her after their experience with the end of the first show (which became more political over time) and ‘The View.'”

O’Donnell hosted her wildly popular daytime strip — which gave her the “Queen of Nice” moniker — through Warner Bros.’ Telepictures label from 1996 to 2002.

Robertson, who stepped down after nearly two decades as president of Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution in 2006, led the sales efforts for the original “Rosie O’Donnell Show,” while Carlin, who ankled the company in 1999 to join a dot.com firm, was a key Robertson lieutenant when the show first launched.

Decision to form the new partnership comes as Robertson’s senior consulting and producing deal at Warner Bros. expired in January. Carlin, meanwhile, exited HBO last year, having sold off-net series like “Sex and the City.”

O’Donnell, meanwhile, had a tumultuous stint as a co-host of ABC’s “The View” during the 2006-2007 TV season, while a 2008 attempt at producing an old-school style variety revue for NBC was a dud in its one and only airing.

More recently, O’Donnell has started hosting a daily two-hour show for Sirius XM satellite radio.

Robertson and Carlin likely see a big opportunity to launch the show as Oprah Winfrey ends her talk show and heads to cable — leaving behind sought-after time slots.

O’Donnell, after all, is one of the few hosts in recent years to have developed a loyal daytime following that rivaled Winfrey. “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” won the outstanding daytime talk show Emmy five times, while O’Donnell also won the Daytime Emmy for best talk show host.

Aside from concerns over the focus of the new show, there’s the question of whether those Winfrey slots are truly available. ABC stations are expected to fill the Winfrey void with newscasts in some cases, and with pre-existing shows in other instances. Mark Burnett is also said to be eyeing those slots, in the event that Sarah Palin — another polarizing public figure — agrees to do a talker strip.

According to insiders, O’Donnell decided to partner in launching a new indie distributor, rather than once again hook up with Warner Bros. or another major syndicator, in order to maintain creative control as she develops a more political, issues-oriented show.

“It’s not about money,” said one exec, noting that O’Donnell is likely getting back into the hosting world to financially help the myriad of causes she supports.

“She’s very charitable, and has a lot of things she likes to do,” one exec said. “This is not about her personal wealth.”

Distributors have been circling O’Donnell for some time, pitching her everything from a late night talk show to a revival of the old, pop culture-oriented “Rosie O’Donnell Show.” But O’Donnell’s desire to focus on much more topical subjects gave them cause for concern.

“She clearly has a specific vision,” one exec said. “(Others) might have talked to her if things were more broad-based and the show was consistent with the successful Rosie.”

By not working through a studio, it’s clear the show won’t have the massive budget of her original strip. Also, given the economic state of TV stations, an O’Donnell show won’t fetch the kind of big license fees that it might have secured a few years ago. (The fact that license fees are declining is one reason Winfrey finally decided to end her show.)

A new O’Donnell show may ultimately make better sense on cable, where individuals with brash personalities and deep-seated views on the issues of the day frequently score high numbers.

“If you find the right network and the right personality matching up. I could imagine this kind of show going on a cable service,” an exec said.

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