A Wiser Rosie O’Donnell Talks New Show and Fearing Oprah

Rosie O'Donnell (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Rosie O'Donnell (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

As one of TV’s most outspoken stars prepares to return to the talk-show arena, Rosie O’Donnell faced the Television Critics Association Friday in Beverly Hills to discuss “The Rosie Show” – and her new boss, Oprah Winfrey.

O’Donnell commanded the stage, spoke humbly and candidly about the almighty Oprah and effectively charmed the crowd, getting laughter and respectable applause (no easy get from this room of TV critics) during the entertaining panel.

While she was still opinionated, and, of course, funny, the controversial Rosie who brewed up storms during her reign on “The View” back in 2006, and exuberantly shot Koosh balls into the audience on her 1996 talk show, seems to have moved on to a better place as she approaches the age of 50.

“When I was 33, I think the appeal of my program was there was an authentic, genuine appreciation of pop culture,” Rosie says. “Now I’m 50, so the enthusiasm that I had for celebrities is changed. I have evolved and grown, and the show is going to be reflective of that.”

She’s well aware that “Television is a lot different than it was when I did my old show,” and plans to incorporate into the new show “what it feels like to be 50 years old, move to another city, be divorced -– which I never thought I would be.”

Winfrey was also on hand to introduce her OWN network’s latest star, revealing the news that “Rosie” will air at 7:00 p.m. on OWN and will lead in to Oprah’s just announced plans for “OWN Your Life.” She also added that “Rosie” will cover “current events, hometown heroes, showcasing the arts, celebrating kids and families, as well as feature well known and upcoming talent and doing her Rosie things as only Rosie can do.”

Here are some other pivotal bits we learned from Rosie about her new show:

On the format of the show:

“It’s going to be a little bit more free flowing so that you can actually call it a talk/variety/reality show – a hybrid of a hybrid,” Rosie says. Each 60-minute episode will feature one celebrity, who will have something to talk about and come to have fun. There will be an opening, where Rosie will do “her kind of comedy” — “I don’t do ba-dum-bum kind of jokes.” And they will also have some audience segments and end each show with a game, “because you know my goal in life was to host ‘The Price is Right.'”

On why she wanted to come back to TV:

“Well, my mom died at 39…So I was gonna make all my success and then retire at 40, and guess what? I did that. And then I went home, and every year I would have my mammogram and say, ‘Is it now?’ And the doctor keeps going, ‘No. You’re healthy. You could lose a little weight, but you’re all right.’ Then I finally realized, crap. I may live. You know? So I needed a plan for act two.”

On how Rosie and Oprah’s first meeting about working together went:

“[Oprah] came [to my house] with a bunch of people from her staff, and my publicist, Cindi Berger, loaded up all of the matching serving dishes from her house, place mats with napkin rings and cloth napkins, and she did a set design of my whole kitchen, and when Oprah walked in, my little daughter said, ‘I don’t know why you are here, but I think it’s only fair to tell you our house is never this fancy.’ Then we talked for about four hours, at the end of which she said, ‘Why is it you want to do this?’ I was, like, ‘Because it’s you, and you may not get you,’ but I’m 50, and half my life I’ve gotten her, and it’s a huge, huge stamp of approval that’s beyond sort of anyone’s dream. It feels almost like being knighted, in a way, for her to go, ‘Hey, I want you to come do this for me,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’ Then we did, and here we are.”

On how Oprah still makes her nervous:

“Listen, I have to tell you, I’m still nervous when she calls. Okay. Like backstage, they’re like, “Oprah’s backstage. She’s come in from Hawaii to introduce you in this.” There’s a moment when I walk in and go, “Get your shit together, O’Donnell. It’s Winfrey. Come on. Kick it up a notch.”

On her appeal to audiences:

“I think that the appeal of my success or the reason for my success is that I’m inspirational in that the people at home so relate to me. If I’m at a table with famous people eating dinner, inevitably, four or five people will come over to me as if I’m the easy pass lane. And they will come right over and go, “Oh, my God. You’re eating dinner with Martin Short and Madonna!” I’m like, “I know. Now get the hell away before they yell at you.”

“Nobody is really thinking that they want to aspire to be like me, but I’m very relatable. So I am really more like the audience — I know nobody is at home going, “God, if I could only be Rosie O’Donnell – an overweight lesbian who yells too much.”

On her knack for controversy:

As for her tendency to stir up trouble, Rosie joked, “We’re going to have a controversy segment…” then laughed, “No, we’re not.” But she did add, “We’re not going to look for controversy, but should it be germane to what’s happening in the world, I’m sure we will bring up current events. Not in a way like attacking Tom Selleck or anything, because once you’ve done that once, really….”

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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