The stations groups that passed on a daytime syndicated talk show Rosie O’Donnell was shopping two years ago are probably having a “we told you so” moment today as O’Donnell’s daytime talk show on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network got the ax after five low-rated months on the air.
OWN went for broke with the launch of The Rosie Show, whose October premiere, along with that of Oprah’s Lifeclass, were broadcast on five Discovery networks. The struggling and money-losing OWN spent some $10 million to market the two shows, whose debut was touted as an unofficial OWN relaunch. That $10 million went where the previous $250 million+ in investment from Discovery went — down the drain. After an OK start with 500,000 viewers tuning in to the premiere, Rosie quickly lost more than half of that to average under 200,000 viewers for most of its run, while Lifeclass was pretty much DOA. Why did O’Donnell, who had two successful previous daytime talk show stints under her belt, on her own syndicated show and on ABC’s The View, fizzle so quickly?
The reasons have to do with OWN and with O’Donnell, with their partnership appearing doomed from the start. It’s hard to get traction for a new show on a network very few people are watching. It also doesn’t help that Rosie was scheduled at 7 PM, a time period no one associates with talk shows, which normally air in daytime and late-night. Airing Rosie at a time when few soccer moms are available and viewers are not in the habit of watching a talk show against venerable performers like Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy proved a tall order. (It was initially announced as a daytime talk show.) Still, as Winfrey’s recent interview with Whitney Houston’s daughter, which attracted 3.5 million viewers, proved, noisy programing can draw eyeballs even on a very low-trafficked network.
Which leads us to O’Donnell, a polarizing figure with strong political views and aggressive style, something that kept station buyers on the sidelines when she was shopping a syndicated talk show in 2010. OWN, which originally branded itself as a network for inspiring women and helping them better their lives, tried to rehabilitate O’Donnell’s image and channel more of her 1990s “queen of nice” bubbly persona than the darker, more controversial one we’ve seen in the final stage of her daytime talk show, on The View as well as on her Sirius XM radio show. But it proved hard for O’Donnell to escape her reputation and get viewers to fully embrace her they way they did 16 years ago. And she didn’t look as natural in that role as she was back in the day.
Also ill-advised was OWN’s decision to position O’Donnell as Winfrey’s successor, from the slew of photo ops of Winfrey draping her arm around O’Donnell’s shoulders to setting O’Donnell’s show in the massive Chicago studio that housed The Oprah Winfrey Show. O’Donnell was uprooted from New York where the show was originally going to be set, to the Windy City. She never felt comfortable on the Oprah stage and in January, she scaled down to a more intimate setting. The revamp was part of a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the show. It also included a showrunner switch, with the hire of Shane Farley, who worked with O’Donnell on her Emmy-winning syndicated talker, to replace original executive producer Page Hurwitz. It looked like OWN was desperately searching for ways to bring together as many elements from O’Donnell’s old show as it can in hopes that they could re-create the winning combination that made that show successful. Unfortunately, replicating success in this business is almost impossible, and for O’Donnell’s OWN show, the changes proved to be too little too late.