Rosie O’Donnell said that it pains her that Barbara Walters is offended by comments the outspoken comedian has made recently about the messy end of her year on “The View.” And, while O’Donnell still admires and loves Walters, she understands why the pioneering female journalist is upset.
“To her, I’m the rowdy teenage daughter she can’t control,” O’Donnell told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Monday in New York. “It hurts me that I hurt her.”
The former talk-show host, actress and “View” panelist was in the studio to talk about Wednesday night’s premiere on NBC of her new variety show, “Rosie Live” — but talk inevitably turned to her feud with “The View” that won’t go away.
Rosie’s childhood heroIt was Walters who asked O’Donnell to join “The View” in 2006 for the show’s 10th year. She would be replacing Vieira, who was moving to the TODAY show, where she took over Katie Couric’s co-anchor slot.
The former host of her own daytime talk show, “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” said that Walters had been her hero when she was growing up.
“I was 14 years old. I watched the first woman ever at a presidential debate; she was the moderator between Carter and Ford. I remember it vividly,” O’Donnell told Vieira. “I was 15, she talked to [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat and [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin. She is one of the women who paved the way for every other woman on television, and I love her.”
O’Donnell did not become popular by being a shrinking violet. “I have that little valve that doesn’t let me edit sometimes,” she admitted to Vieira. Her willingness to say what’s on her mind has endeared her to her fans — but it’s also gotten her in hot water.
Her year on “The View” began to unravel when she took some public shots at Donald Trump, who shot back at her, launching the kind of public verbal joust that so delights the tabloid press. Walters did not defend O’Donnell as the two traded insults, and after a confrontation in the makeup room with Walters, O’Donnell knew she would not return for a second year on the show.
But the incident that sealed her fate involved a political face-off with the show’s conservative panelist, Elisabeth Hasselbeck. O’Donnell still rankles at the way “The View” switched to a split screen during that debate, something she says the show had never done before. With several weeks remaining on her one-year contract, O’Donnell left “The View” in the spring of 2007.
Life after ‘The View’A philanthropist who has donated millions to various causes, O’Donnell went back to working with her foundation, “Rosie’s Broadway Kids,” which introduces New York City schoolchildren to the Broadway theaters that inspired O’Donnell as a child. She also focused on raising her four children with partner Kelli Carpenter. And she wrote a book, “Celebrity Detox,” in which she laid bare her traumas and neuroses.
And then Ben Silverman, co-chairman of entertainment for NBC Universal, agreed to hear O’Donnell’s pitch to revive TV's moribund variety-show format.
“Everybody said, ‘Variety can’t work,’ ” O’Donnell told Vieira. But she had grown up in the 1970s watching variety shows and believed differently. What, she asked, are “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” but variety shows with panels of judges?
When she sat down with Silverman, the first thing he told her was, “My mother’s a big fan of yours.” O’Donnell thought, “This bodes well for me,” she told Vieira.
She got the green light, and, she told Vieira jokingly, she’s convinced that Silverman’s mother was the deciding vote. “I think he had dinner with his mother and she said, ‘Benjamin, you give that Rosie a show or you go to your room,’ ” O’Donnell cracked. “I’m totally giving credit to the mother.”
Current of controversy
But with the show came a publicity tour and dozens of newspaper interviews. And every reporter assigned to the story felt obliged to ask about her departure from “The View.” In response to one question from a reporter from The Los Angeles Times, O’Donnell related, she observed that the panelists on the show weren’t the best of friends once the show was over. She said that the reporter said she accused Walters of lying, which she insists is a word she never used.
O’Donnell still doesn’t think she was telling any deep, dark secret. “I said they don’t go to Chili’s after the show and have buffalo wings and a beer. I’m not saying they hate each other,” she told Vieira.
Once she made the comments, O’Donnell said she sent an e-mail to Walters, knowing how the words would be construed in the next day’s paper.
“I never called her a liar. The reporter from The Los Angeles Times used that word. I never said that word. I knew that word would hurt her,” she told Vieira. “So I wrote her an e-mail, saying, ‘I’m sorry it keeps coming up like this. I do the best I can … I love you. Rosie.’ ”
Walters did not reply privately to the e-mail. Instead, she addressed it on the next edition of “The View.” She never mentioned O’Donnell by name, but it wasn’t hard to figure out who she was referring to when she said: “Some people who have done this show ... feel they have to dump on it, maybe for their own publicity. And that not only hurts me, but I resent it. So if the shoe fits, lady ... ladies, get on with your lives.”
‘I do love her’
“I’m not angry,” O’Donnell told Vieira. “I have feelings and I do care about Barbara Walters. Nobody has a movie relationship … People have real relationships that are full of tense moments, with your siblings, with people you work with.”
She said she understands why Walters is angry with her.
“I think there comes a point where she’s just had enough. I think I’m hard to take for some people,” O’Donnell told Vieira. “That’s OK. It’s all right. You can’t look at her life and career and have anything but respect for her. And I do love her. That’s the bottom line. Life is complicated.”
O’Donnell promised that “Rosie Live” will steer clear of raising hackles.
“It’s an hour of fun,” she said. “No controversy. No politics. No arguing. We’re not fighting with anybody. Just one hour of fun.”
The show premieres at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBC. Among the first guests are Alec Baldwin, Ne-Yo, Alanis Morissette, Kathy Griffin, and one of O'Donnell's childhood heroes, Liza Minnelli. O'Donnell said the “Cabaret” star will sing a song audiences haven't heard in 30 years.