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How Rosie turned one man into a ‘View’ addict

O’Donnell changed the panelists for the better and made the show about something. By Dave White
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

I’ve already replaced the 30 minutes a day I used to spend watching the “Hot Topics” half of “The View” with E!’s new reality series “Sunset Tan.”

“Sunset Tan” is about the ickiest new thing on television and I’m already obsessing over it. It’s about a chain of Los Angeles-based tanning salons and the young to young-ish, blond to blond-ish, sometimes nude and always orange people who work there.

Already I’ve been charmed by a nasty L.A. mom’s insistence on turning her child a darker shade of tangerine for her school pictures; picked sides in an employees-who-are-drunken-sluts-vs-employees-not-yet-fully-invested-in-drunken-slutdom catfight; and nodded my head in understanding as one disgusted witness to the lady-battle observed, “This has nothing to do with tanning.”

And now that Rosie’s gone from “The View,” there’ll be no one around to make sure that that show doesn’t just become all about tanning. I might as well watch a program that’s exactly what it says it is.

Falling for RosieBefore Rosie stepped into her role as bully pulpit headmistress on “The View,” I never paid much attention to either party. I’d seen her own talk show before, once or twice, and couldn’t figure out what her thing was with Tom Cruise (as a gay man, I’d already clocked her as playing for my team years earlier when she wore that lesbian mullet on VH1), or what her thing was with Broadway. I’d never heard her politics.

“The View,” at the time, seemed to be about… actually I don’t know what it was about. It seemed like it was about nothing unless opinionated and unafraid actor Sandra Bernhard came on to speak some sort of counter-cultural truth or stand-up comic Kathy Griffin was the guest and trash-talked a celebrity who deserved it. Every time that happened, you could see the hosts — not-so-shy Joy Behar included — cringe a little, as though suffering whiplash by mouthing.

I remember hearing about an early Rosie visit to that panel, one that had caused a bit of a dust-up and I thought, “Well, she should replace Star Jones.” And then it happened.

By this point Rosie had taken some flack for her newfound public political voice and I knew that she’d be up against the pill-ish, uptight, right-winger Elisabeth Hasselbeck. A rhubarb just waiting to happen, served to me on a plate five days a week.

I started TiVo-ing and was almost instantly rewarded with a Donald Trump feud, public discussion of Rosie’s depression and how she battles it by hanging upside down from one of those inversion machine thingies, glimpses into her super-rich but simultaneously Wal-Mart-y lifestyle (with occasional peeks at the goofy relationship she has her partner Kelly’s redneck Christian mom), and a very touchy class-war conversation she started one day about Barbara Walters’ own couldn’t-be-further-from-a-lesbian-potluck-fancy-pants-dinner-with-the-Kissingers lifestyle.

But most — and best — of all, she battled political and cultural arch-nemesis Hasselbeck. They’d fight and make up, fight and make up. Barbara would try to calm things down. Joy would go for the joke. Guest host Kellie Pickler would sit in mute, terrified, uncomprehending silence. And then they’d fight some more.

And it wasn’t just the fight for its own sake, although those are always welcome. It made the show finally about something. Rosie swung her opinions like a Viking sword; sometimes it made sense (her constant upbraiding of Bush’s wrongheaded refusal to attend soldier funerals) and sometimes it didn’t (her recent Sept. 11 conspiracy talk). Sometimes she had facts and sometimes she just had feelings, but she always came out swinging.

Suddenly, Eleanor Clift on “The McLaughlin Group” (who only ever uses elegant facts) had competition as my favorite woman speaking from the left on TV.

Changing the panel for the betterIn her own galumphing, tacky way, Rosie changed her fellow panelists for the better. She didn’t loosen up Walters’ New York society snootiness one frozen millimeter, but she brought out the fighter in Joy Behar like never before. At one point during a typical I’m-so-adorable moment where Hasslebeck feigned ignorance of the purpose of a fingerbowl at a White House dinner she attended, expressing surprise that Condoleeza Rice was using the rose-petal-decorated water to wash with, a lightning-quick Behar jumped in with “Out! Out! Damn spot!” The comic seemed more alive on the air than ever before. The softball jokes were out, the knife-sharp ones were in.

Rosie even helped cultivate a warmth in Hasselbeck I’d never seen before. I came to sort of like the blond Bush-nut even as I hated everything she stood for, because it seemed like she and O’Donnell were truly bonding over their similarities as suburban Moms instead of their differences as The Right One and The Left One. I don’t know why I liked that kind of softy mush, but I did. Enough so that I wish that over this past Memorial Day weekend they’d really done what Hasselbeck claimed they’d done on Tuesday’s show and gotten on with the business of forgiving one another for last week’s Mother of All On-Air Blow-Ups.

If you’ve been not paying attention, this one was over nothing more than perception, personal betrayal, hurt feelings and egos, not about facts or any public issue at all. It felt suspicious to me, like someone was gaslighting one or both of them somewhere down the line. It felt disconnected and weird. There was no good reason not to kiss and make up like before. But they didn’t.

A ‘View’ wish listWhat I’d really like is for Rosie to use her final three weeks to keep yelling, because at the moment she just seems to be enjoying the wallow. And for those of us on her side, it feels like the one voice in daytime TV that wouldn’t back down just took her toys and stomped home.

I’d also like for one second if the straight-white-male-dominated media were given glasses that would make them see Rosie as someone they’d like to have sex with, because then I guarantee she’d be getting way less hassle than she is right now. Comic Jeff Ross said it most incisively on Tuesday’s show when he joked that he’d make a good replacement for O’Donnell, citing his own less-masculine persona.

And as long as I’m making a “View” -centric wish-list, I’d like for Barbara Walters to stop fibbing about what dear friends she and Rosie are. I’d like for Hasselbeck to be given someone new to fight with come June, someone to keep yelling that 115 American soldiers died for no good reason in Iraq during the month of May — someone like Griffin or Bernhard, who both know their politics, who both seem to have a thicker skin, and who could keep the show messy and entertaining and important.

But until any of those things happen I’ll just keep watching “Sunset Tan.”

Dave White is the author of “Exile in Guyville” and writes TV commentary for Advocate.com. Find him at www.myspace.com/dlelandwhite.