So who’ve thought that quintessential New Yorker Rosie O’Donnell would ever pull up stakes and move to the Midwest? But she has—and for very good reason. Rosie has taken up residence at Oprah’s Harpo Studios on Chicago’s Near West Side to launch a brand new talk show, called, not surprisingly, Rosie. “I actually love it here [in Chicago] and can imagine moving and living here for this next chapter of my life,” Rosie told TV writers on a conference call last week.
The new show will air weeknights on Oprah’s OWN Network at 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 CT, and its inaugural hour aired live (a decision reached only last Thursday!). She semi-jokingly told the audience pre-show that the decision was made because her practice shows done last week timed out too long, and the pressure of the live broadcast would force adherence to her one-hour allotment. (Especially important, quipped Rosie, because Oprah’s own OWN show follows immediately after Rosie.)
Rosie said at the start of the show that the premiere’s audience was mostly made up of people Rosie has met in Chicago—bumped into in her new neighborhood, or in the case of the six-year old Kyle, someone who rescued a locked-out-of-the house Rosie by his quick thinking. Rosie’s four children were also in the audience, as well as personal finance guru Susie Orman.
During last week’s press call, Rosie said that she hoped the interview segments her show would feel more old Dick Cavett than contemporary chat shows like Jay Leno and Dave Letterman. Guests on the most current late-night chat shows usually appear for a segment (perhaps two), and are there primarily to promote their latest project. Her plan is to feature her main guest for a three-segment (30 minute) interview, which would allow her to get beneath the surface of the actor, author or musician, and have a real conversation. At the top of her wish list for guest stars had always been British comedian Russell Brand (Arthur), and Rosie got her wish.
Rosie began with a 10-minute standup routine. Best bit was about her victory over her wardrobe handlers not to wear Spanx under her outfit. Describing the shaping garment (pretty damn accurately) as a torture chamber resonated with millions of women while sending the audience, including the men, into peals of laughter.
Following the comedy routine, Rosie took questions from the audience ala Carol Burnett in her 1960s-1970s comedy-variety show on CBS. The questions were pre-selected, and included and exchange with Orman. The segment led into a full-on Broadway-esque song about coming to Chicago accompanied by the house band, led by Emmy-winning Katreese Barnes.
Brand was a fun first guest, but his signature rambling, quickly fired and complex repartee (especially given his thick British accent) might have whipped by some in the audience a bit too quickly. During the breaks, the rangy Brand roamed the audience, interacting with several audience members, and taking a liking to Rosie’s six-year old rescuer, Kyle, whom he brought up on stage.
Brand spoke a bit about his (successful) experience with rehab years ago, and his current efforts to “give back” with an organization called Friendly House (complete with video presentation),which helps addicted women recover gently in a nurturing home-like environment. He also talked about a disastrous awards-show hosting stint and the pitfalls and pratfalls of fame.
The interview was mostly anecdotes and banter between Rosie and Brand, which is fine, given the audience. However, it’s not quite Dick Cavett. At least not yet.
During last week’s press call, Rosie listed some of her upcoming guests, including Salma Hyek, Lisa Kudrow, Gloria Estefan, Roseanne Barr, Sharon and Kelly Osborne, Ricky Lake, Gloria Steinem, Wanda Sykes, the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Kevin Bacon, and Fran Drescher. She also revealed that “Gloria Estefan is going to come and sit in with the band as well as perform [her current top-of-the charts song] ‘One Day.'”
The hour ended with “The Ro Show,” a cute trivia game show that will become a regular feature (Rosie, it turns out, is a frustrated would-be game show host). A “surprise” appearance by Oprah Winfrey (of course!) wrapped up the live broadcast with a spray of confetti and a hug for Rosie. Of her new boss, Rosie noted last week, “I feel nothing but privilege, truthfully, and it’s going to be thrilling. For [Oprah] to not only ask me to be on her network but for her to also give me her studio, her staff, her buildings and welcome me to her city—it’s an unbelievable city, Chicago. She is totally the mayor of the city, the emotional mayor.”
Rosie airs weeknights on OWN at 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. CT and then repeats at 11:00 p.m., and again the following day at 4:00 p.m.