Her tenure short but hardly sweet, Rosie O’Donnell said Wednesday she will leave “The View” in June after less than a year of feuds, headlines and higher ratings for ABC.
The opinionated host said she and ABC couldn’t agree on a new contract — she wanted one more year, ABC wanted to lock her up for three. So she decided to leave, although she will appear occasionally next season for things like a planned one-hour special on autism.
O’Donnell made more than $3 million for her season on “The View.” ABC was willing to spend more to keep her, but wanted a three-year deal so it didn’t have to worry about O’Donnell as a potential competitor. She could easily command her own talk show for much more money: She was making some $30 million a year before “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” shut down in 2002.
“It just didn’t work,” she said on the show Wednesday, “and that’s show biz. But it’s not sad because I loved it here and I love you guys and I’m not going away.”
O’Donnell has helped increase the chat show’s audience by about a half-million a day. But her outspokenness has caused continual controversy, including a nasty name-calling feud with Donald Trump that placed “The View” creator Barbara Walters squarely in the middle.
“We have had, to say the least, an interesting year,” Walters said. But she said O’Donnell’s exit is “not my doing or my choice.”
Walters was frequently left to clean up the damage after O’Donnell. She did it most recently Monday, when O’Donnell was criticized for using bad language and attacking Rupert Murdoch from the dais of the annual New York Women in Communication awards luncheon.
Saying she was “very fond” of Murdoch, Walters pointed out that “Rosie’s view is not always mine.”
In the Trump imbroglio, O’Donnell was reportedly mad that Walters did not come more swiftly to her defense, while Trump said Walters told him she didn’t want O’Donnell on the show — a claim Walters denied.
“Barbara’s the happiest person in the world that Rosie’s been fired,” Trump said.
Cindi Berger, spokeswoman for both O’Donnell and Walters, denied Trump’s claim, wondering how he would know what had happened in contract talks between O’Donnell and ABC.
Illustrating their dynamic, Walters blanched on Wednesday’s show when O’Donnell teased her for complaining about blocked sidewalks near her home because of a visit by President Bush. The war, Hurricane Katrina, illegal wiretapping didn’t bother her, “but put up a barricade near Barbara Walters’ house and there’s hell to pay!”
“The Rosie-Babs relationship is like Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s — fascinating and rather horrifying to watch, but ultimately not really good for any of the principals involved,” said Debby Waldman, a regular watcher of “The View” from Edmonton.
Despite controversy — or maybe because of it — O’Donnell was good business for ABC, owned by the Walt Disney Co. Through mid-April, “The View” has averaged 3.5 million viewers since O’Donnell joined, up 17 percent over the same period last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The timing of the announcement doesn’t particularly suit O’Donnell if she wants to remain in daytime television. She wouldn’t be able to introduce a new program to the syndication market until September 2008, he said. But the company that produced O’Donnell’s long-running daytime show has expressed interest in having her back, he said.
O’Donnell has discussed acting on the FX show, “Nip/Tuck.” But she has not decided what she wants to do in TV in the future, Berger said.
O’Donnell made headlines repeatedly for comments on “The View,” and for testy exchanges with her more conservative partner, Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
She criticized “American Idol” in January for airing humiliating auditions. “Isn’t that what America thinks of entertainment? To make fun of someone’s physical appearance. And when they leave the room, laugh hysterically at them. Three millionaires, one probably intoxicated.”
She accused fellow ABC daytime host Kelly Ripa of making a homophobic remark, said “radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America” and has frequently been critical of President Bush. Asian-Americans and Catholics also have seethed over her remarks.
Her departure is a real challenge for “The View.” O’Donnell was clearly the show’s centerpiece, and she had replaced Meredith Vieira, who was effectively the moderator.
ABC needs someone well-known to step in, Carroll said. “It would be difficult, in my judgment, to try to replace Rosie,” he said. “The best course of action would be to find someone who would be similar to what Meredith was.”