Rosie O'Donnell to Leave TV Show

N E W  Y O R K, Nov. 20, 2000 -- Rosie O’Donnell may be gaining a magazine, but losing her talk show.

The daytime talk show host, during an appearance on NBC’s Today to promote her new association with McCall’s magazine, hedged at first but then indicated she would end The Rosie O’Donnell Show when her contract expires in spring 2002.

A sensation upon its debut in 1996, O’Donnell’s show has sagged in the ratings this year, and the one-time Queen of Nice has been in a few political dustups. She is committed to her show through the next season.

Still Not Final

She told NBC’s Katie Couric on Friday that she was “leaning toward” not continuing.

“Why don’t you just say, ‘I’m not going to do it’?” Couric said. “Then you’d really make news this morning.”

O’Donnell replied: “All right, I’m not going to do it.”

Couric gave O’Donnell a chance to escape, saying she didn’t want to pressure her into making a decision too early. O’Donnell didn’t back down, and said that an announcement is expected in January.

“Warner Brothers has been wonderful to me,” she said. “They, of course, would love for me to continue. It’s beneficial to me, as it is to them. But at some point you have to make those decisions in your life.”

Scott Rowe, spokesman for show syndicators Warner Brothers Television, said that the company never discusses contract negotiations, “but we’re hopeful that Rosie will return.”

Laura Mandel, a spokeswoman for the show, said, “Our stance is that nothing’s been decided.”

O’Donnell was a clear third in the talk show ratings pecking order behind Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer as recently as this spring. But this fall, her ratings have dropped by 19 percent, and she has slipped behind Regis Philbin and Maury Povich into a tie for fifth with Montel Williams.

“The show is aging and it’s losing steam,” said Marc Berman, an analyst for Media Week Online.

It’s always possible O’Donnell could be threatening to leave in order to negotiate a better deal, said Bill Carroll, an expert on TV syndication for the Katz Television Group.

Troubled Ratings

But while many TV station owners once considered O’Donnell an heir apparent to Winfrey, now most expect Winfrey to outlast her, he said. Winfrey recently signed a new contract that will keep her on the air through at least 2004.

O’Donnell has become more politically active in Democratic causes and last year engaged in a tense on-air debate on gun control with Tom Selleck. A day before the election this month, she gave Barbra Streisand a platform to promote Gore’s candidacy. Streisand said O’Donnell’s syndicators didn’t like the idea.

Some stations have been concerned about O’Donnell’s political activism, Carroll said. “No one wants her to not express her feelings, but at the same time, that’s not necessarily the best format for it,” he said.

O’Donnell told Couric that she began doing the show because it was a convenient schedule for her young children. Now, she said she is concerned that it’s hindering her ability to be a good parent, since strangers often approach them in public.

“The main impetus for doing the show was my children,” she said. “And if I did stop doing the show, that would be the impetus, as well, because I enjoy it very much. It’s been more fulfilling than I ever thought.”