High-Flying Bids Await Rosie O’Donnell

Apr 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Syndicators expect daytime to get “Rosie” in 2008, but at a price.

Rosie O’Donnell’s announcement on “The View” last Wednesday that she would leave the ABC Daytime show in June reignited speculation about her next move in television. Hypotheses ranged from a late-night talk series to a drama on HBO. The idea of a daytime show on cable, which could easily accommodate her candid commentary, also was popular.

On Ms. O’Donnell’s blog, she has repeatedly expressed interest in a late-night series, although analysts say that unless she goes to cable, it’s unlikely to happen due to lack of available time periods.

But sources close to Ms. O’Donnell said she’s loved by daytime audiences; also, there’s more money there, and that’s probably where she will want to end up. The controversial comedian is open to all possibilities, but the sources characterized the idea of a cable series as “extremely unlikely.”

The potential barrier in the way of a syndicated show, however, is not Ms. O’Donnell’s polarizing presence, as much of the O’Donnell discussion has focused on. Rather, it’s the matter of whether syndicators can get return on investment in today’s market.

“Rosie O’Donnell is the hottest talent on daytime television who is available right now,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at Katz Television. “If she decides to commit to a project, someone is going to have to pay for the right to distribute her.”

However, the cost for that “someone” is likely to be prohibitive.

During Ms. O’Donnell’s last season of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” in 2001-02, she earned $30 million as host and producer of the strip.

After earning $3 million for a year as co-host of “The View,” she turned down ABC’s offer of $30 million for three years to stay, according to reports.

As host of a daytime talk show, Ms. O’Donnell is expected to command a substantial salary, more than the estimated $5 million-$8 million plus a cut of profits that Warner Bros. pays Tyra Banks for her talk show. Instead, Ms. O’Donnell is likely to demand compensation more in line with what Ellen DeGeneres earns for her Warner Bros. show, an estimated $12.5 million-$15 million a year plus a piece of the show.

In order to make money, analysts project Ms. O’Donnell’s series would have to earn at least a 2.5 national household rating in its first year. That’s not an outlandish goal, but it’s not as easy as it used to be.

No first-run rookie talk show in recent years has earned a 2.5. This year’s champion, “Rachael Ray,” earned a 2.0 for the week ending April 15. Sophomore “Tyra Banks” earned a 1.3 for the same week.

But veteran series such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Dr. Phil” and “Live With Regis and Kelly” consistently and easily beat that mark. “Oprah” most recently earned a 6.1, “Dr. Phil” a 4.8 and “Live” a 3.1.

Making it more difficult: Few prime scheduling holes open up each year, especially in early fringe where higher-rated strips are placed.

Ongoing Discussions

Ms. O’Donnell and her representatives have had multiple conversations with syndicators to gauge interest in a fall 2008 daytime project, according to studio sources.

Two of those distributors, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, which distributed her first talk show, and CBS Television Distribution, home of “Oprah,” “Dr. Phil” and “Judge Judy,” have surfaced as Ms. O’Donnell’s most likely studio partners. This is provided ABC has officially passed on the fall 2008 daytime project included in Ms. O’Donnell’s contract with “The View.”

Working in Warner Bros.’ favor is Hilary Estey McLoughlin. She executive produced “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and now is president of Telepictures Productions, the Warner Bros. division that produced Rosie’s former blockbuster daytime series. “A lot of companies are interested,” Ms. Estey McLoughlin told TelevisionWeek Managing Editor Melissa Grego last month as part of her “Mel’s Diner” blog.

Ms. Estey McLoughlin said a series hosted by Ms. O’Donnell could work in today’s marketplace because “even if you don’t agree with her, she compels you to listen to her.”

Meanwhile, CBS Television Distribution is making its own play for Ms. O’Donnell, according to sources, with Terry Wood, its president of creative affairs, entering conversations to land the star. The company currently distributes this season’s top newcomer, “Rachael Ray.”

In its favor is the availability of the CBS-owned stations, meaning it could accommodate clearances. Warner Bros. doesn’t own stations, so self-distribution isn’t an option.

Also, one executive pointed out, there is still the hosting gig on CBS game show “The Price Is Right” next season. Ms. O’Donnell has expressed interest, but, she admitted on her blog, “`Price’ doesn’t want me.”

Still, the most feasible spot for a new syndicated show starring Ms. O’Donnell is not affiliated with either Warner Bros. or CBS.

“Stations always make room for a program that’s a priority, but there is really only one logical place where Rosie could land and that’s on the NBC O&Os,” said Mr. Carroll, who noted the lineups on CBS- and ABC-owned stations are full and not expected to see primary openings by ’08.

Analysts say the Fox- and Tribune-owned stations would not be a good fit for Ms. O’Donnell’s brand of talk show. That leaves the NBC stations as the only major market broadcast outlet for her.

If only one station group were to make a play for the series, that would drive down the overall bidding price for the rights to air it. But a big cable offer could come along, too.

“If I was (new Lifetime president) Andrea Wong, Rosie would be the first call I’d make for a show,” said one studio executive. “I’d offer her a piece of the channel and she could do anything she wants with it without fear of station backlash.”

Regardless of the chatter about a talk show, Ms. O’Donnell is likely to show up next season on ABC in at least a limited capacity.

“We part as friends, and hope that we can entice Rosie back next year to take part in a series of one-hour specials for us like our recent show on autism,” said Brian Frons, president of daytime programming for the Disney-ABC TV Group. “And maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to convince her to guest co-host once in a while as well.”

Michele Greppi contributed to this report.