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Rosie and Oprah officially form their OWN alliance

by on July 30th 2011 at 9:42 pm

Rosie O'Donnell/OWN photo

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Oprah Winfrey's struggling OWN channel is primed for a Rosie outlook. So much so that its namesake made a surprise appearance Friday to herald her latest acquisition -- Rosie O'Donnell -- while also underscoring her determination to get OWN past first gear after six months of mostly idling in the ratings.

"I can tell you now, I am officially in," Winfrey told a hotel ballroom full of TV writers. "I get emails from friends saying, 'I hope that you're somewhere relaxing, enjoying your time off from the show.' And I'm not. I'm here in the office at OWN listening to budget meetings and marketing meetings and talking about how to strategize and make this network everything that we know it can be to fulfill the potential of the vision."

The oft-stated vision -- which actually is something of a mantra -- is to be an "uplifting," aspirational network dedicated to making its viewers see the light. To that end, Winfrey announced a new packaging of her old shows under the umbrella title of OWN Your Life: The Oprah Class. The idea is to take the 4,561 editions of The Oprah Winfrey Show and "use them as a teaching tool, re-packaged and re-hosted by myself," she said. Beginning Oct. 10th, these video instructionals on raising children, coping with divorce, forgiveness, etc. will air at 7 p.m. (central time) weekdays, with The Rosie Show preceding them.

O'Donnell isn't exactly Joan of Arc in the aspirational scheme of things after famously feuding with the likes of Donald Trump and the hosts of The View, which she left in something of a huff. But Winfrey said she's been after O'Donnell for more than a year.

"She could have gone to any of the big broadcasters, but she chose to align herself, her talent, her big creative vision with me and with OWN," Winfrey said before introducing O'Donnell as "part of this family."

Dressed head-to-toe in basic black, O'Donnell commanded a hotel ballroom stage while seated in a stuffed white chair. She was aggressively funny while also being duly deferential to her benefactor.

"I'm 50," she said (although a variety of reliable Internet sources, including wikipedia and imdb.com, list her as 49). "And half my life I've 'gotten' her (Winfrey). And it's a huge, huge stamp of approval that's beyond anyone's dream" to have a show on OWN. "It feels almost like being knighted in a way for her to go, 'Hey, I want you to come do this for me.' And here we are."

O'Donnell said she'll have one celebrity guest per show rather than a trio of them "promoting something, and then you'll see them on Letterman and Regis and all those other shows. And they're going to have something to talk about and want to come and play and have a fun kind of 60 minutes together."

She'll also do an opening comedic riff and end the show with a "kitschy, kind of fun game" in which both the guest and the studio audience can win relatively small prizes. As with her old daytime show, O'Donnell plans to tout "products that I really believe in" as a way to raise additional revenue.

For instance, "the Schick Intuition Razor is the best thing that's happened to women since the Tampax multi-pack," she said. "And I feel strongly that most women's lives would be improved by using it . . . You never nick, you never cut. and I don't really know how I lived without it before it was invented."

But what about being "uplifting?" Or at least aspirational. Does she fit either of those OWN molds?

O'Donnell sees herself as inspirational rather than aspirational. "If I'm at a table with famous people eating dinner, inevitably four or five people will come over to me as if I'm the 'Easy Pass' lane. They will come right over and go, 'Oh my God, you're eating dinner with Martin Short and Madonna!' So they think I am the access.

"I really am more like the audience than I ever was. Nobody is at home going, 'God, if I could only be Rosie O'Donnell, an overweight lesbian who yells too much.' Nobody is really thinking that they want to aspire to be like me, but I'm very relatable . . . Oprah, who is the height of aspirational and inspirational, recognizes something in me that is germane to her bigger message. And if anything, there's your inspiration right there. My job is mostly to entertain and be funny, and that's what I'm hoping to do."

She succeeded on both counts Friday before thanking her audience for "not asking about Donald Trump or Barbara Walters. Those were the two things that Cindi (her publicist Cindi Berger) was having diarrhea about."

O'Donnell and Winfrey than walked off the stage arm in arm, looking like a plus-sized, one-two punch that just might give OWN the push and pull it needs.

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