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A Reminder: Rosie O'Donnell Was a Total Game-Changer

When it came to daytime talk shows
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 11, 2021 8:15 AM CDT
Updated Jul 11, 2021 11:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – The woman who changed everything in the talk show world is none other than Rosie O'Donnell, or so Ashley Spencer makes the case in a lengthy piece for Vulture. The Rosie O’Donnell Show launched in 1996 in a way that was, well, different. It wasn't pretaped, for one; it was kid-friendly; it lacked the "endless TV conflict" supplied by the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich; it was even lighter than the drama Oprah often offered, a Koosh-ball-filled safe space for celebs. And it was a ratings dynamo. "Today it’s assumed that every host will act like a PR-friendly fan, and every fan will generate friendly PR. Segments are concocted to go viral," writes Spencer. "But when America was still running on dial-up, O’Donnell seized on a prescient spark. Without social media or YouTube, she managed to become a benevolent influencer and relatable best friend to the masses."

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Spencer recounts O'Donnell's path to the show (movie filming was keeping her away from her young son), how she treated her staff (remarkably from a benefits standpoint, securing them paid summers off and a free on-set daycare), and shares some of her most memorable celebrity guests. That runs from the dreamy (Barbra Streisand and Tom Cruise) to a conversation with Tom Selleck in the wake of the Columbine shooting in which she went after him for more than 6 minutes over his NRA ties; it lives on as "one of daytime TV’s tensest moments," and it was somewhat of an aberration. Even when things took a turn—she greeted Donny Osmond by showing him evidence of her childhood adoration of him; he replied with a fat joke about her—she handled it as only Rosie could: "Invite Osmond back to beg for forgiveness and sing 'Puppy Love' to her while wearing a dog costume." (The full piece tracks her post-9/11 exit and how her "spirit ... still ripples across daytime and late night alike.)

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