Robertson, Carlin Arm ‘Rosie’ Pitch With Magid Study, ‘Oprah’ Appearance

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Former Warner Bros.’ syndication chieftains Dick Robertson and Scott Carlin have started making the rounds to pitch Rosie O’Donnell 2.0.

The pair are showing potential buyers a presentation tape that shows Rosie O appearing on two daytime talk shows - Oprah and Tyra, according to sources. The segments demonstrate the “new Rosie,” whom Robertson and Carlin are pitching as aware of her tendency to be polarizing. The pitch also acknowledges that O’Donnell’s behavior - such as getting political and taking her first talk show down in flames and abruptly terminating her contract with The View - has turned general managers and program buyers a little nervous when it comes to the former daytime queen.

Robertson and Carlin have commissioned a study from Frank N. Magid Associates that surveyed nearly 800 women aged 18 to 54 who watch at least two talk shows per week. Nearly 60% of these women indicated, after seeing Rosie on Oprah, that they would be interested in checking out a new talk show starring her. That’s up from just 31% prior to the Oprah appearance. (OK, I’ve gotta ask: Is Oprah really responsible for everything from our current president to who’s going to star on daytime TV to the latest best-seller? Is there nothing this woman does not influence?)

The Magid study also found that 60% of those women would prefer to watch a Rosie talker than the local news, which many stations have indicated may be what they turn to when it comes to filling Oprah’s slot come fall 2011.

The two compared Rosie’s return to that of Ellen DeGeneres’ launch, who only 31% of women surveyed said they liked prior to her 2004 talk-show debut. When asked today, nearly 90% of those women say they now like Ellen.

Speaking of Ellen, that’s one of only five syndicated talkers that has worked in the past 15 years, according to Robertson and Carlin. Rosie makes two. The other three come from Oprah’s camp: Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray and this year’s newcomer, Dr. Oz, which hit a 2.5 household rating this week and is the third highest-rated daytime talker, beating Ellen at a 2.1.

The trick to selling Rosie will be convincing station execs that she can remain “real, honest, generous, authentic, unpretentious and family-oriented,” as Robertson and Carlin are describing her, without declining — sans warning — into polarizing politics, as she has done in her past two outings. I’ve had many conversations with potential buyers and my initial sense is that convincing them isn’t going to be easy, even for top-notch sales people like Robertson and Carlin.

Time Slots Still Limited

There’s also a logistical question regarding where Rosie can air. Options on station lineups are limited. ABC and CBS stations are both non-starters: CBS is full and all reports indicate that ABC will fill its soon-to-be open slot with local news or perhaps something developed in-house, such as the Tori Spelling vehicle LA Times recently reported. Not every ABC owned station is expected to do local news, so some ABC slots may be available, but not likely in top markets.

It’s those top markets that could present a problem. If ABC and CBS are out, the options are Tribune, Fox and NBC. Tribune has plunked its limited money down on its long-running trio of Maury, Jerry and Wilkos and the group is committed to those shows through 2013. That doesn’t leave much time in the day for Rosie, plus she’s not considered a very good fit for Tribune. Fox is expected to be a no go from the get go because there’s no love lost between Fox brass and Rosie, for obvious reasons.

NBC is the show’s most likely partner, and the programming line-up that group will assemble for 2011 is still an unknown. For this fall, NBC renewed Ellen, picked up Sony’s Nate Berkus, agreed to a one-year deal for the off-Bravo Real Housewives and is adding a live version of Access Hollywood. All of that gives NBC a full day’s schedule, but there’s a lot of risk there, so it’s very possible that NBC will need new product for the following fall. The group also is said to be interested in Dr. Oz, although it would have to come up with enough cash to steal it from Fox.

Regardless, Robertson and Carlin have 18 months to figure it out. The duo is perhaps pitching their plan a little sooner than they would have liked, but their hands were forced after O’Donnell herself revealed her plans to the New York Post’s Cindy Adams. As I have reminded many friends over the years, if you want to keep a secret, don’t tell a journalist.

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