Unlike most frontloaded premieres, "The Rosie Show's" bow proved curiously flat and understated.
The number of people who have successfully hosted a talkshow is small enough whenever one gets back in the saddle, it’s worthy of attention. That Rosie O’Donnell brings her act to Oprah Winfrey’s struggling OWN – trying to create a little showbiz pizzazz of the daytime variety, albeit in the early evening – raises the stakes for all involved. Airing live creates a sense of unpredictability, but unlike most frontloaded premieres, “The Rosie Show’s” bow proved curiously flat and understated, whose success will rest heavily on the host’s lingering fan base.Paired with “Oprah’s Lifeclass,” which also premiered Monday, “Rosie” forms the most formidable block OWN has yet assembled, marshaling enough star power to eclipse most of what’s previously aired on the rebranded channel. Still, O’Donnell’s program didn’t exhibit the fireworks one might have expected, allocating most of the hour to guest Russell Brand, in an interview that was relaxed, charitably, but almost wholly uninteresting. O’Donnell opened by doing standup – in front of a curtain that made the room look especially small, like an after-hours comedy club – before giving way to an elaborate song-and-dance number. If only the jokes had as much kick in them. Other than a few references to being a lesbian, O’Donnell – who followed her syndicated show with a ratings-boosting stint on “The View,” in which she showcased her liberal views – left politics on the sidelines. Moreover, she closed the hour with a gameshow segment (giving away a Jamaica vacation), which only fed the notion “Rosie’s” menu will be a little of everything, plus the kitchen sink. Yet for all Winfrey’s famous showmanship, thus far OWN keeps looking like a second-rate operation. Her cameo on “Rosie’s” premiere, for example, only made you wonder why she hadn’t been her first guest, creating a logical crossover with “Lifeclass.” And Winfrey’s program was about as low-octane as a series gets – featuring, other than old clips, Winfrey sitting on the couch essentially delivering a direct-to-camera lecture. Yes, we know she’s become something of a prophet, but this looked like a taped Learning Annex session – just a cheap way to repackage library video, while Winfrey made good on the “class” title by saying things like, “The ego is a disassociation from your true sense of self-worth.” Please say this isn’t going to be on the final. Winfrey has directly taken the reins of OWN, placing her reputation on the line. Although this Monday one-two punch ought to improve ratings, with the bar so low it’d be hard to limbo under it that’s less of a concern than establishing whether her version of “broccoli TV” really can truly sustain an entire channel. According to O’Donnell, when told “Rosie” would consist of the host talking, her kids responded, “You think people are gonna watch that?” Some people, certainly – those already converted and hooked. But enough to set OWN on a path to being more than Oprah and Discovery’s folly? If this is as good as it gets, there had better be a lot more Jamaica trips to dangle as an incentive.