The Rosie O'Donnell Show is an American daytime television talk show hosted and produced by actress and comedian Rosie O'Donnell. It premiered on June 10, 1996, and concluded after six seasons on May 22, 2002
The show was taped in Studio 8G at NBC's Rockefeller Center studios in New York City, New York, and was produced and distributed by KidRo Productions, Telepictures Productions, and Warner Bros. Television. The talk show won five Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show.
On June 10, 1996, The Rosie O'Donnell Show premiered, and proved successful. The show was a replacement for Carnie!, which aired from September 6, 1995 to February 23, 1996.
In October 1996, a fire broke out at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City. As a result, the show resumed taping for four days in the Ed Sullivan Theater (where David Letterman taped his show). The first episode resuming taping in the regular studio featured a beginning scene reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, in which Rosie awakens from a dream.
O'Donnell often spoke of her admiration for Barbra Streisand and in November 1997 Streisand, who rarely does interviews, agreed to a full hour special. The set was covered in flowers and Streisand memorabilia. Streisand's husband, actor James Brolin, was also interviewed. Prior to this interview O'Donnell received a brief letter from Streisand which she discussed on-air and held up very briefly. She described Streisand as being very caring in the letter but wouldn't read it on-air. It was too late, however, as a TV camera caught a brief shot of the letter and within days savvy viewers distributed its contents. O'Donnell later expressed dismay that viewers would do that. Streisand was interviewed again in 1999 at her home, shortly before her Timeless tour.
On May 19, 1999, a month after the Columbine shootings, which prompted O'Donnell to become an outspoken supporter of gun control and a major figure in the Million Mom March, O'Donnell interviewed actor Tom Selleck, who was promoting a film The Love Letter. After a commercial break, O'Donnell confronted him about his recent commercial for the NRA and challenged him about the NRA's position on the use of assault rifles. According to Selleck, the two had agreed not to discuss the topic prior to his appearance on the show. O'Donnell maintains that Selleck and his publicist had been informed that the topic would be discussed. She later stated the interview had "not gone the way I had hoped it had gone. But, I would like to thank you for appearing anyway, knowing that we have differing views. I was happy that you decided to come on the show. And if you feel insulted by my questions, I apologize, because it was not a personal attack. It was meant to bring up the subject as it is in the consciousness of so many today."
In April 2001, Rosie had a two-week absence from her show because of a staph infection. She had guest hosts take her place, including Joy Behar, Meredith Vieira, Barbara Walters, Kathy Griffin, Marie Osmond, Jane Krakowski, Ana Gasteyer and Caroline Rhea.
Throughout the final season O'Donnell called on Caroline Rhea to host the program every Friday. Rhea's growing popularity as a guest host gave her the green light to host her own daytime talk show the following year, supposedly succeeding O'Donnell. However, Rhea's program lasted for only one season.
After a 6-year run, the show ended in 2002 when Rosie chose to leave to spend more time with her children and her girlfriend (later wife), Kelli Carpenter.
The final live episode aired on May 22, 2002. It featured an opening musical ensemble number from Broadway, starring Vanessa Williams and John Lithgow (who were both appearing on Broadway at the time). The guests were Nathan Lane and Christine Ebersole. The show's final segment featured a retrospective video made by Rosie that blended scenes from her personal life with her talk show, accompanied by the song "Both Sides Now" sung by Joni Mitchell. The conclusion of the show featured a clip of Tom Cruise mowing a lawn, who then stops to look at the camera and says, "Rosie, I cut your grass, and here is your lemonade." (A reference to one of the show's running gags, that O'Donnell adored Tom Cruise.)
Remaining new, but pre-taped, episodes continued to air until June 27, 2002, the last with guest host Caroline Rhea. Repeats aired until August 30, 2002 (which was a repeat of May 20, 2002.)
Topics often discussed on the show include Broadway, children, extended families and charitable works, people and organizations.
The program was also known for featuring extended production numbers from Broadway shows which were often seen as too time consuming on other shows. O'Donnell was known for keeping a light-hearted nature during the show as she playfully interviewed her guests and interacted with her audience. Commonly, O'Donnell would throw koosh balls into the audience throughout the show; this gag expanded through the years to include automated koosh-projecting devices in the ceiling, as well as O'Donnell firing at a moving target.
The house band was led by pianist John McDaniel, and was dubbed "The McDLTs".
Unique introductions by a member of the audience were made at the beginning of each episode. (Hi! I'm [insert audience member], from [insert resident's address] and this is The Rosie O'Donnell Show. On today's show: [insert guests and/or topics]. Hit it, John!). After the animated intro, the audience member would then say, "And now, here's Rosie!" O'Donnell commented on the DVD release of first season highlights that producers weren't keen on this opening but Rosie insisted upon it as she enjoyed being able to talk to a "real person" every show.
A long-running segment of the show involved telling jokes that children from around the United States mailed into the studio. These jokes were eventually compiled into two books (and eventually a TV special) entitled Kids Are Punny; proceeds from the book went to children's charity programs.
O'Donnell's endorsement of the Tickle Me Elmo played a large part in the huge popularity of the toy. Likewise when she served Drake's snack cakes to audience members on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which helped contribute to increased sales of Drake's cakes.
Early on O'Donnell was dubbed "The Queen of Nice" by Newsweek magazine for her sweet personality, which was in stark contrast to many other talk shows of the era.
The show won multiple Emmys such as five times Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show (1998-2002) during its run.
A compilation of highlights of the show's first season was available for sale in September 2008, exclusively from the Home Shopping Network. The DVD runs 90 minutes and contains Rosie O'Donnell commenting while watching clips of archived footage. Included are Tom Cruise's first visit, Fran Drescher's parents reviewing Florida restaurants, and the incident in which Donny Osmond made a fat joke at Rosie's expense.