Rosie O’Donnell is returning to television as host of a live variety show on NBC.
The network will air “Rosie’s Variety Show” as an hour-long special the night before Thanksgiving, with an eye toward expansion to a full series should viewers embrace the project.
The special will feature celebrity guests, musical acts, comedy skits and a prize give-away for the show’s in-studio and home audiences.
The show’s Nov. 26 airdate manages to trump Fox’s upcoming variety show starring Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, which is expected to debut in the winter or spring.
For NBC, the project’s live aspect is of particular interest, both as a way of distinguishing the product from competitors and to discourage viewers from recording the show for later viewing. NBC has aired “America’s Got Talent” results shows live this year and plans a quartet of “Saturday Night Live” primetime specials.
“This will reinvent the idea of what a variety show is for 2008,” NBC vice president alternative Craig Plestis said. “There’s very few performers willing to put themselves out there live. It makes it more TiVo-proof, and it’s something none of the cable networks can do.”
Such classic variety titles as “The Carol Burnett Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” were massive primetime hits. Producers and networks have been trying to figure out how to revive the variety show for decades. In 2004, ABC drew viewers with “The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour,” but follow-up editions were less successful.
The closest modern variation of the variety show that has drawn significant viewers has been NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
“This is a genre that everybody is anticipating is going to come back,” said David Friedman, who will executive produce the show along with O’Donnell. “Rosie sort of invented the daytime variety show. Without question, Rosie is the right person to bring this back.”
The project raises the prospect of a new regular TV gig for O’Donnell. Her “Rosie O’Donnell Show” was a daytime syndicated hit for five years until it left the air in 2001. Since then, O’Donnell has appeared in recurring roles on FX’s “Nip/Tuck” and was featured on Showtime’s “Queer as Folk.” She also starred in the CBS telefilm “Riding the Bus With My Sister” and drew raves co-hosting the 10th season of ABC’s “The View.”