Rosie Playing a Trump Card?

Rumors fly that she’s eyeing syndication
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As the feud between Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump raged on last week, daytime’s hottest property was not a syndicated show. It was ABC’s own talk show, The View.

And the imbroglio-induced ratings jump, on the eve of NATPE, was fueling industry speculation that O’Donnell may defect to syndication, again going solo with a show of her own. Industry types, from programming executives to syndicators to agents, were buzzing last week that O’Donnell’s reps are floating various scenarios.

Options being discussed include another syndicated, celeb-focused show; a game show (in the past, O’Donnell’s name has come up to host Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and The Price Is Right); a late-night network program; or perhaps a cable show, where her language could be less inhibited.

Although most in the industry saw the squabble as a negotiating ploy to squeeze more money out of a View contract renewal (O’Donnell signed only a one-year contract, which ends later this year), others say she’d be better off ditching the View sorority and reclaiming a stage of her own.

In 1996, when O’Donnell was actually called the Queen of Nice, she delighted station owners with her chatty and funny talker, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, syndicated by Warner Bros. Renewing the show cost stations a bundle.

Says Shari Anne Brill, president/director of programming for the ad agency Carat USA Inc., “She’s been out on her own before, but maybe she really wants to be the top banana again.”

Rosie peaked at 6.05 million viewers at the end of its debut season and hovered around 3.7 million for the next few years before limping to an end in 2002 with 2 million viewers.

At The View, O’Donnell helped bring the show its best numbers in its decade on-air, but they still don’t approach those her own show pulled in for much of its run. During fourth quarter 2006, The View attracted an average 3.36 million total viewers, spiking to a show-record 4.34 million on Dec. 26, at the height of the O’Donnell/Trump slurfest.

“She can make a case she’s raised the profile of the show through whatever means she did,” says Horizon Media research expert Brad Adgate. “Maybe she wants to see which doors open up by being on the program.”

O’Donnell made nice on the air last week with co-host (and Co-Executive Producer) Barbara Walters, who was dragged into the Rosie-Donald donnybrook. Meanwhile, the gossip rags—and industry wags—speculated that things might not be so, well, rosy behind the scenes at the gabfest. The View executives decline comment on contract negotiations as a matter of practice.

But in an interview with B&C (12/18, p. 3) View Co-Executive Producer Bill Geddie said in no uncertain terms that he sees the show as a franchise with interchangeable hosts.

“It is not dependent on any one personality,” he says. “And we’ve been very careful in the way we run the show to make sure everybody understands that.”

Says Disney-ABC TV Daytime President Brian Frons, “There’s always going to be rumors when someone’s come into a show and been as successful as Rosie has been at The View. We love her and love what she does, and we hope she’s going to be with us for a very long time.”

Says Brill, “Having somebody vocal and controversial is great in the mix for a show that was conceived as a lively gabfest for women talking about events of the day—and [O’Donnell] knows that.

“Having somebody who can stir the pot makes it more attractive for viewers.”