Don’t shed any tears for Rosie O’Donnell. She has had a great run for the past year on "The View." And while you are at it, don’t feel bad for Barbara Walters. After 10 years, the show that she co-owns with ABC, was headed for obscurity. Interest was dropping for the daytime show, particularly after Meredith Vieira flew the coop and took a pretty nice gig at the Today show. Star Jones wasn’t there to kick around any more and tell her off-the-wall stories about that fascinating marriage that apparently she sold sponsorships to.
And although Barbara is an icon -- a giant in the world of broadcasting -- she frankly didn’t have the juice to drive the show anymore. So what is a media den mother to do to spice up the party? Rosie wasn’t working at the time. She always had a lot to say. She was glad to poke people in the eye, be they colleagues or not, and say the most outrageous, undocumented and quotable things you could imagine.
Whether she was attacking Donald Trump’s comb over and his mishandling of the Miss USA debacle or she was spouting her very odd conspiracy theories as to how World Trade Center Building Number 7 was some sort of an inside job—she was great for news and talk business. I know it always gave me a place on "Scarborough Country." Every time Rosie went off, I got a call and we had something to talk about and analyze.
I’d always wonder what the suits at ABC were thinking. Sure, the ratings were up considerably, once Rosie took over as “moderator” of the program, but talk about the road kill she left. There was Elisabeth Hasselbeck crying all the time; Barbara Walters denying that she regretted bringing Rosie on in the first place; Rosie doing an embarrassing and offensive Asian accent and calling for the president’s impeachment.
She railed about the Iraq war, which was fine. That was pretty mainstream, but when she seemed to be overly sympathetic to terrorists who targeted the United States and said that we somehow coerced confessions from them, she was beginning to turn off a lot of people. But then again, Rosie, just like Imus, could always claim that she wasn’t a serious journalist; she was just a comedian who had some controversial views and opinions. She also happened to have a great daytime television slot. And again, the rest of us ate it up. YouTube had a field day. Everyone else could grab those sound bytes, run them either in context or not, and then we could talk about Rosie.
Now the gig is up. Apparently Rosie and the suits at ABC daytime weren’t able to reach a deal; they say it was about contract terms. It may have been about money, but of course Barbara Walters in the middle of this all made it clear on "The View" this week that this “was not my doing or choice.” Walters protested way too much; “I’m going to read, ‘I did this and I did that,’ and it brings back a lot of other things that I was accused of doing and did not do.” (Apparently a reference to the Trump claim that Babs told him she regretted hiring Rosie.)
Barbara Walters may have got what she wanted by having Rosie pump up some interest in "The View," but she also took a pretty big hit here. She was consistently embarrassed. She sat there while Rosie made these off-the-wall, undocumented and often totally irresponsible statements. This media trailblazer just sat there, never really challenging Rosie -- never really having a “view” to speak of. She may have been embarrassed, but in the end it was like making a deal with the broadcast devil who could pump up your ratings but destroy 30 years of broadcast credibility in the process. Apparently it was a deal Barbara was willing to make.
Don’t kid yourself, Barbara Walters had had enough. There was no way she wasn’t in on this deal to let Rosie go. And Rosie had had enough. As crude as she was on the air (even though she did some pretty charitable things) she had to know that when she spoke at the highly publicized Matrix Awards for women in the media and scholarship event in New York City this week, she said and did some things that would seal her fate. You have to know your audience. Apparently Rosie didn’t even care.
Going after Rupert Murdoch at the event was no big deal, but when she made reference to Donald Trump saying that she had always wanted to “give an old, bald billionaire a boner” she was in big trouble. But when she followed up by grabbing her crotch and speaking directly at Trump while looking into the camera saying “eat me” that was about it. You have 17-year-old young women in that room being honored and recognized for their accomplishments. They were getting scholarships from the awards committee using funds that were raised for this very nice and prestigious event. They were looking for role models—women in the media that they could look up to.
And then there is Rosie, grabbing her crotch saying “eat me” and then making the most inappropriate and asinine comments about Trump. You know you are in trouble when you make Donald Trump a sympathetic figure who is one of the biggest media blowhards around. I’m figuring at that point everyone involved said enough is enough. Let’s end this little experiment before it gets any worse.
So there you go. Rosie’s gone in June. But don’t worry, she is going to get another gig. She is likely not to be on set with anyone else because clearly she doesn’t play well with the other kids. She doesn’t have much of a track record of being a media team player. She’ll go to cable, maybe HBO or Showtime, maybe even satellite. She can use whatever foul language she wants and no one will care. She can make off-the-wall, outrageous and undocumented political or social comments directed at people’s personal appearance. She can make ethnic impressions that can offend millions, and it won’t matter much because the standard will always be different in daytime on broadcast television than it is for certain cable outlets and now satellite.
But as for Barbara Walters, I say she has a hard time recovering any credibility she might have left. As for "The View," soon you’ll see it in your rear view mirror. I can’t imagine the show getting any meaningful traction at this point. But I say a 10-year-run on network television in daytime with decent number is in this crazy media business is pretty damn good run. I know most of us would take it in a minute. Bye Rosie, catch you on the rebound.
Write to Steve Adubato at firstname.lastname@example.org.