Rosie O'Donnell's agent is shopping a format for the controversial star to launch a talk show pairing her with a single guest host each week, with a “hot topics” portion similar to The View.
Industry sources say O'Donnell, who has yet to seriously focus on her next moves, is open to a number of options, including producing her own syndicated talk show and farming it out to an outside distributor.
Funding for her program, along with a possible online magazine, could come from Media Rights Capital (MRC), a film-financing firm in which O'Donnell's talent agency, Endeavor, owns a minority stake.
O'Donnell's agent, Nancy Josephson, is holding non-exclusive talks with more than a dozen interested parties. Neither Endeavor nor MRC would comment late last week.
Independence could bring O'Donnell the type of creative freedom that would be tough to come by at a conglomerate worried about its Washington interests.
O'Donnell would be lucky to get half of the $40 million annually that she is seeking under a traditional studio deal, even with an ownership stake, according to executives speaking anonymously.
But entertainment conglomerates like CBS and NBC Universal have the assets to make such a large payday possible.
CBS has hotly pursued O'Donnell; sources say it is prepared to offer her a broad deal encompassing network, syndication and even Showtime. NBCU is also in the mix.
Sources say O'Donnell will meet with CBS brass soon to discuss its offer, which could open the door to regular guest appearances on The Early Show. Her views have generated the type of buzz that could allow CBS to finally lift the perennial third-place program out of the morning-show cellar.
A significant ratings surge in the profitable daypart would go a long way toward CBS' offsetting the high cost of a standalone syndicated talk show with O'Donnell, which could soar to $75 million annually once $25 million in production and $10 million in marketing costs are added to her salary demands.
It would be virtually impossible to recoup such a massive investment in the best of circumstances, let alone with the controversial O'Donnell expected to scare away some advertisers.
Some also fear that News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch, a recent recipient of O'Donnell's barbs, could be inclined to put the kibosh on Fox stations' interest.
Fox is one of two station groups—the other being NBC—that have the afternoon real estate and cash an O'Donnell talker would require. If Fox passes, NBC could acquire her show fairly cheaply.
Disney's ABC, meanwhile, will see its option to match competing offers expire with her contract in June.
O'Donnell confirmed last week that she wanted a one-year, $10 million deal to continue on The View, with ABC offering three years at $6 million.
On her video blog, she said, “I know it seems greedy to people … considering what they made this year. I feel like, if you make a big offer like that, it's kind of like poker. If you're gonna raise to $10 million and they're gonna see your $10 million, you're gonna have to show up.”
Still, interest in O'Donnell remains high in Hollywood. As one executive puts it, “She may be a polarizing figure, but if we can just get 5%-10% of those who agree with her and a few of those who don't, we would have a hit.”