After a season of tumult, tension and Trump, Rosie O'Donnell has put
in her rearview mirror.
The brash host of ABC's daytime female chatfest will leave the show at the end of her contract in mid-June, she announced on-air yesterday.
"They wanted me for three years, I wanted one year and it just didn't work," O'Donnell, 45, said. Afterward, she and View boss Barbara Walters refused all interviews.
Walters, who lured O'Donnell back to daytime TV in September with a one-year deal, was quick to distance herself from the decision. (She was rumored to be instrumental in the abrupt dismissal of Star Jones last June.) In a statement, Walters said she would miss O'Donnell, calling her "a cherished friend and colleague."
All negotiations were between O'Donnell's reps and ABC Daytime, Walters said. O'Donnell said she planned to return "in small doses." That could mean as a guest host or as a participant in special-themed shows such as the recent View on autism.
Despite - or because of - the controversy she created, O'Donnell was like a shot of adrenaline to The View, which was starting to show its age in its 10th season. It's gained 500,000 viewers this season compared to a year ago.
While both parties label O'Donnell's departure a mutual decision, J. Max Robins, editor in chief of Broadcasting & Cable, a trade magazine, speculates that "the lion's share is Rosie's call."
"Ratings are up. They're making money. If she really wanted to stay, they would have found an accommodation. She's a huge star."
Buzz in Hollywood is that O'Donnell is talking with several studios about launching her second syndicated show. Her first, a titanic hit, ran from 1996 to 2002 and won a trunk full of Emmy Awards.
Regardless of The View's strong ratings, however, some say ABC was increasingly wary of O'Donnell's frequent bombastic rants against the Iraq War, President Bush, Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump, in particular.
The latter, O'Donnell's scrappiest sparring partner, reacted gleefully yesterday, declaring that the network had fired his adversary and boasting, "I'm proud to say I probably had a part in it." An ABC rep labeled the claim "completely false."
In the post-Don Imus landscape, all broadcast operations "have their antennas up" for fear of advertisers' bailing, says Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television.
"They don't want this to happen to them. They're looking for potential time bombs. It gets to the point where they question whether somebody is worth the trouble. Rosie constantly went over the line, but ABC knew what they were getting into."
In a story on abc.com, Brian Frons, president of daytime programming for the Disney-ABC Television Group, said ABC and O'Donnell were "unable to agree on some key elements."
"Going in, we knew we would have an amazing year with her and that anything beyond that would be gravy," he said. "But we were willing to take the chance because we understood what a coup it was to entice Ro back to daytime television."
Even though her name wasn't in the title, O'Donnell had quickly taken over The View. Unlike her predecessor, Meredith Vieira, she didn't defer to Walters and overshadowed the other regular panelists, Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
A true Alpha female, O'Donnell dominated every conversation, often interrupting her colleagues and/or ridiculing their opinions.
"They should have called it 'Rosie's View,' or 'My View Starring Rosie O'Donnell'," says Syracuse's Thompson.
O'Donnell's views were particularly important to the gay community, according to Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
With her daily domestic tales about her wife, Kelli, and their four children, O'Donnell provides "unprecedented visibility and equality in conversation," he says.
"We knew from her first day on the show that she would put those stories and issues into America's living rooms."
Hit daytime talker Ellen DeGeneres, who came out publicly several years before O'Donnell, avoids discussions on her show of her sexuality.
There was no acrimony evident in O'Donnell's announcement yesterday. "It just didn't work," she told the audience. "And that's showbiz." Then before going to commercial, she called for the impeachment of President Bush.
That Rosie. Always has to get in the last word.