'The Rosie Show': The first week was terrific; now all she needs is more viewers: You. | EW.com

TV | Ken Tucker's TV

'The Rosie Show': The first week was terrific; now all she needs is more viewers: You.

The first week of The Rosie Show was a happy mess, two words I didn’t expect to be writing about a show featuring the mercurial O’Donnell and her tightly-controlled cable network, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN. On Friday’s edition, O’Donnell even spent some time re-playing some of the technical gaffes the live broadcast endured (faulty microphones, wrong clips shown), every one of which only increased the entertainment factor.

O’Donnell is in some ways an old-fashioned talk-show host. It looks as though Rosie will, like Ellen De Generes and Jimmy Fallon, make her set a welcoming home, a place where guests will be greeted warmly, not grilled or made wary. Older viewers will recognize the aura Rosie is trying to evoke: That of the The Mike Douglas Show and Merv Griffin’s comfy old sets. O’Donnell has the brains and shrewdness to know that viewers love it when they feel they’re watching something spontaneous, and so O’Donnell book-ends her show with opportunities to stoke that feeling. Her opening monologues are more dialogues with the audience, picking up on their reactions (or non-reactions – a lesser host would have been mortified to espy a sleeping audience member, but Rosie commanded the camera to train on one dozing fellow last week, and teased his TV-narcolepsy into a very funny few minutes). She’s apparently going to close out most hours with audience-participation game, various trivia contests that, again, allow O’Donnell to interact with the public and riff off their answers.

Right now, O’Donnell seems stoked to be broadcasting from Oprahville – excuse me, Chicago – and gets a lot of comedy mileage about being a newcomer to the town. Another plus: She’s booking guests that aren’t always tied to plugging movies or new fall TV shows. Thus she had a nice long, rambling, articulate chat with Russell Brand, a pleasantly scattered one with Valerie Harper, and parried sharp comments with Roseanne Barr, who came off a lot better than she does on her own current show, Roseanne’s Nuts.

This is not the O’Donnell who went into black funks during her stint on The View, loosening lightning bolts at the paltry twig that was Elisabeth Hasselbeck. (Hasselbeck has since, of course, grown into a grounded, steely rod capable of absorbing any hostile electricity thrown her way.) Right now, Rosie is working on a rosy high, seemingly delighted to have the freedom from broadcast network interference and the blessing of Oprah.

Now all she needs is ratings. OWN is not exactly FX or AMC; indeed, O’Donnell – a daughter of anarchy, a mad-woman in the best sense – goes against the grain of the fledgling network’s feel-good, laid-back style. In other words, The Rosie Show is exactly the program OWN needs to break through, but it needs time to build an audience. Last week, daily ratings master Marc Berman of Media Insights was pretty brutal, noting: “Day three ratings took another tumble for the struggling talker The Rosie Show… Based on the Live Plus Same Day ratings for Wednesday, Oct. 12, The Rosie Show at 7 p.m. dipped to 254,000 viewers – down a staggering 49 percent from its debut on Monday (497,000) … The Rosie Show three days in is a blatant failure.  “

Ouch. Well, The Rosie Show is a blatant success in terms of quality. Let’s hope the relatively small audience thus far doesn’t throw O’Donnell into a tailspin of dark moodiness. Keep it up, Rosie…

Twitter: @kentucker

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