Rosie O'Donnell throwing her hat in Oprah ring


Rosie O’Donnell has formed a production company with former Warner Bros.’ big-wigs Dick Robertson and Scott Carlin to develop and produce a new daytime talk show intended to bow in 2011, just in time for Oprah Winfrey to depart the air.

“Come fall 2011, there is going to be a major shift in television. For better or worse, a void will be there. Something is going to move in to fill that void,” says one insider who’s close to the deal. “What personality is out there that has the information, the skill set and the awareness to make a difference, whose voice and impact is really powerful but positive and doing good things in the world? Clearly Rosie is that person.”

The as-yet-untitled company is just being formed, but beyond the talk show, the three principals have plans to develop documentary and scripted films and other TV series, whether for broadcast or cable. O’Donnell’s new show is being developed with TV stations in mind but it could also air on cable or on both, said the source.

In 1996, Warner Bros. launched The Rosie O’Donnell Show, which immediately became a huge hit. At the time, Robertson ran domestic distribution for the company, while Carlin was the top salesman. Since then, both Robertson and Carlin have departed Warner Bros., but both have stayed in touch with each other and with O’Donnell.

During her show’s six-year run, O’Donnell earned herself the nickname “The Queen of Nice” due to all her charitable causes and giving, which she continues today. The show’s ratings dropped dramatically in the late-nineties when O’Donnell began using the show as a political platform. The show was cancelled in 2002, after the show’s ratings decline hurt TV stations that had renewed the show for big license fees based on past performance.

O’Donnell joined ABC’s The View in 2006, replacing Meredith Vieira as moderator. During her one-year tenure on the show O’Donnell got into many arguments with fellow panelist, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, whose own political views are much more conservative than O’Donnell’s. The View’s ratings went sky-high, spiking almost 30%, while O’Donnell was on the show, with the controversies and arguments keeping the show in the public eye.

“I think people might be worried about [this new show] if they just view her by The View. Her role on The View was to be a provocateur – she was there to mix it up and she’s a truth teller. She did exactly what was expected and wanted of her,” says the insider. “This will be her show, her money, her life – she knows what’s expected from TV stations, advertisers and audiences.”

After all the controversy and on-air disagreements, O’Donnell and ABC chose to terminate their agreement before O’Donnell’s contracted expired in spring 2007.

In late 2008, O’Donnell hosted a little-watched primetime variety show called Rosie Live! on NBC. She began doing a daily two-hour The Rosie O’Donnell Show on Sirius XM Radio in November 2009.

“What’s been clear over a long time with Rosie is that she has three primary interests: she wants to make enormous amounts of money and that’s not driven as much by her desire for personal wealth as it is by her desirable to do charitable work and finance Broadway plays,” says one syndication executive. “Number two, because of all of her interests she doesn’t want to work as hard as a typical daily talk show requires. And three, she doesn’t want anyone telling her what to do.”

Considering those requirements – tons of money, not too much time, and creative control – daytime broadcast TV might be a tough sell for O’Donnell. Oprah-sized money no longer exists on daytime TV, and TV stations are wary of talk shows designed around political lightning rods.

Still, word is that O’Donnell, who appeared on the Oprah show herself a few weeks ago, wants to do a single-topic talk show that’s much like Oprah. It won’t be focused on celebrities and it will feature O’Donnell in conversations with various people of interest, from celebrities to real people.

“Rosie can very easily step in and do what Oprah has done,” says the insider. “She can do the kind of show Oprah has done and that’s her intention. You have a major tectonic shift happening and it’s clear it’s a jump-ball. I think it’s an opportunity to build something new. A lot of legacy shows out there are still doing okay, but boy does the business need an injection of something fresh and dynamic.”