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Killing With Kindness

Okay. Obviously no one else wants to be the first to step up and get the ball rolling, so I guess the job's fallen on me:

I'd like to officially begin the backlash against The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

Look, I've been watching the show sporadically since its beginning. And you know, at first I thought it was fantastic. Those of you with real jobs can't fully appreciate what it was like out there on Daytime Television before Rosie came along. The morning and afternoon was packed with hour after hour of only two different kinds of shows. First, there are the Regis & Kathie Lee ripoffs, in which two hosts each work very, very hard over the course of an hour to prove to some producer out there that they would be a big, big hit if they were hired away from this dead-end program and liberated from the fleshy worthless load incorporated in the tall wicker chair next to them. Secondly, there are the Geraldo ripoffs, in which each and every day the topic under discussion features a permutation or combination of the terms "Wild Teen," "Makeover" or "Surprise." Is it any wonder that within two months of becoming a full-time freelance writer, I found myself going to bed at 8 AM and sleeping until Oprah?

Rosie O'Donnell was a breath of fresh air. She was, and still is, eminently likeable, she knows how to work a room and her enthusiasm for what she's doing is genuine. There are top-drawer musical acts, some cute remote segments, and hey, no one enjoys a good Kid Joke more than I do.

But after -- what, six months? -- of this, I think I'm done with The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

I'm sick of hearing twenty-year-old commercial jingles. Rosie's ability to remember any piece of music she hears is indeed uncanny. It's a remarkable power, and I only wish she'd decided to use this power for good instead of evil. And good lord, a 1972 gas-station jingle sung off-key and broadcast at the very top of the morning is every bit as evil as any Lex Luthor Death Ray.

I'm sick of guests like the guy who once had a recurring role on The Love Boat as Adrienne Barbeau's valet. And not because these aren't good, decent, hard-working American actors: it's because these people -- fresh from directing a dinner-theater production of "Love Letters" in Pawtucket, RI -- become the objects of dare-I-say Arsenio-esque ass-kissing. At least when they panel on Conan or Dave, they're allowed to retain their dignity and share some fun stories about working with Gavin McLeod and Larry Linville. But on Rosie's Love Seat, they're forced to smile weakly as the host moons awestruck over their long and storied careers, when everyone in the audience knows full well that this is the first time since the Bush administration that they've played in front of more than thirty people at a time.

Yes, I know that the Industry needs a place where Alan Thicke can go to talk about the phenomenal personal growth he experienced during that one afternoon he visited a soup kitchen while preparing for his movie-of-the-week, co-incidentally airing next Tuesday at 9. And I know that the Industry was delighted to find in Rosie a host who would not only eagerly listen to Alan, but actually believe every word he said, too. But perhaps some day during the weekly hirings and firings, Rosie will sign up a producer who knows enough to sort of space out these 1000cc injections of Hollywood Love a tad more.

I'm sick of that Tom Cruise thing. Come on, Rosie...we've all had a good laugh, but it's time to give it a rest. At least when Richard Simmons keeps going on and on about his infatuation with Barbra Streisand, we know he's being sincere!

I'm sick of dumb nostalgia. Sometimes she'll get a hot movie star in the chair, and then waste three minutes running off on a monologue which begins "Remember gum? They used to have this gum? It was sort of a fruit gum? And it was sort of rainbow-colored? And there was a zebra on it? Remember the commercial for it? Remember the name of the zebra? And "Shampoo" had just come out? Remember Warren Beatty's hair in that?" Hey Rosie! Remember Thanksgiving? And you'd be having dinner with your relatives? And one of your great-Aunts would start telling you stories about growing up during the Depression? Stories that never went anywhere? Remember?

But first and foremost,

I'm sick and bloody tired of all the damned commercials. A Rosie O'Donnell Show is a nonstop barrage of product placements and testimonials. PR people, bless their little hearts, just keep sending her things Just To Be Kind, and Rosie is fascinated by each and every damned one of these gimgaws. OK, admittedly, if the friendly folks at M&M/Mars had sent me a wallful of M&M's, sure, I'd try to keep the flow of freebies coming at all costs. But is there any limit to how many products she can plug during any given minute? Evidently Rosie's determined to find out.

It's annoying even when -- maybe even especially when -- all of this PR is being committed under the guise of charity. Take, for instance, the first Rosie O'Donnell show I saw after writing the first draft of this. It seems that a mouth-wash company had declared Rosie one of America's least-kissable celebrities. Well, as an aside, let me say that when you look at Rosie O'Donnell the very first thing you want to do is give her a big pally hug, so I don't know what the Scope people were thinking there. Rosie then announces that the Listerine people -- Oh, bless their little hearts...when do they find the time to actually do their jobs? -- have countered by pledging $1000 to Rosie's favorite charity each and every time a guest kisses Rosie on the air. And wouldn't you know it! Every time it happens, the show puts up an electronic graphic with the dollar amount...and the Listerine logo! What a wholly unanticipated side-benefit for the Listerine people!

And it gets worse. This has become a pretext for more free PR. Because now during (seemingly) every show's first act, Rosie hears a doorbell, walks to a prop door at center stage...and hey, what do you know! It's the cast of Suddenly Susan, appearing Thursday nights at 9:30 on NBC! Each with a cozy smooch for Rosie.

Oh, well, I can't be a total grinch. As of this morning -- about nine days later -- this schmaltz has raised over $100,000 (!) for Rosie's charity, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. But it is contributing to the overall weariness of The Rosie O'Donnell Show, I think.

In the end, if you watch enough of this show, the experience starts to seem more and more like watching the Jerry Lewis Telethon for an hour...only it consists entirely of the bits in which Jerry is either accepting checks from slogan-spouting corporate types, or fawning over the selfless contribution of time and energy and love and talent provided by whatever 3 AM celebrity he's introducing off the Teleprompter. The other major difference is that we expect no better of Jerry, and in fact that's what we tuned into the Telethon for in the first place. When I tune in to see Rosie, I'm always hoping for more, and I never get it.

The phrase which Rosie O'Donnell has used over and over again to describe her show has been "A Merv Griffin Show for the Nineties." What everyone fails to remember is that The Merv Griffin Show -- I merely mention this as a point of fact -- really sucked.

Copyright © 1997 Andy Ihnatko

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