No surprise: Rosie show returns to New Yawk

Rosie O’Donnell heads back home

So five months after it all began, the ill-fated “The Rosie Show” looks to be near its end — at least as a Chicago-based production.

Rumors first surfaced late Tuesday on the Huffington Post that  Rosie O’Donnell is set to move herself and what’s left of her show (which is not much) to New York City.

A “Rosie Show” spokesperson hasn’t refuted the rumor. That surely means O’Donnell’s bags are already packed and her ticket punched back to the Big Apple. Which is where the show should have been done in the first place, if it was to have had any chance of success.

But so many things doomed this Chicago “Rosie Show” from the get-go, it’s hard to know where to begin enumerating them.  Let’s start, however with the woman who made the biggest mistake — the revered Oprah Winfrey.

No one can deny Winfrey fronted a hugely successful daytime talk show for 25 years.  Call it luck. Call it savvy. Call it what you will, she did it. But let’s be blunt. This woman does not walk on water, no matter how much some people like to elevate her to near deity-like status.

Clearly Winfrey is no genius when it comes to television programming.  O’Donnell was her friend. Winfrey wanted her to come to Chicago and fill the emptiness at Harpo Studios that was begging to be filled after the curtain came down on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” last May.

Winfrey’s reasons to produce “Rosie” here

Oprah has her OWN problemsAs much as anything else, this dumb decision to produce “The Rosie Show” in Chicago at Harpo Studios was about Winfrey’s trying to save face.  To prove she wasn’t entirely turning her back on Chicago after her show ended.  To show she wasn’t giving up on Harpo Studios.  To show Winfrey still gives a damn about the Windy City that helped transform her into a superstar.

Well, guess what?  It has all backfired.  Not that we believe Winfrey really gives a damn about what has happened — now that she has relocated to her grand estate on the West Coast, from which she is focused on masterminding a comeback for the troubled cable channel that bears her name, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

As we said when we first reviewed “The Rosie Show” in October, it was obvious from the first seconds of the show’s first installment that O’Donnell was a fish out of water in Chicago.  In her first moments on air, she spoke about how nice Chicago residents are, which suggested to us an immediate disconnect with the environment in which she was working.

It was like watching a very public display of mental therapy as O’Donnell tried to figure out what these weird people around here were all about.  “Nice” may be nice, but it isn’t what the hard-bitten New Yawker — with more than a little edge — was used to.  Nor what energized her.

As the weeks passed, and we checked in to watch the show from time to time, it was painfully obvious O’Donnell wasn’t relating to Chicago.  There were the constant, aching-to-be-there references to New York’s Broadway theater world.  The effusive thanks to the guests for making the trek ALL the way to Chicago to chat with her.

None of it was working, and the declining ratings proved that.

If to be saved, show goes to New Yawk

Finally, the declining numbers forced more drastic changes and a downsizing in the show several weeks ago.  The audience was gone. The live band was gone. And most of the life was totally sucked out of the show.  “The Rosie Show” producers — and Winfrey most importantly — must have realized there was no hope of any kind of substantive turnaround if O’Donnell remained stranded in Chicago.

So now comes the long trek back to New York for O’Donnell, where she may be given one last chance in her beloved native land to make this talk show work.

Of course, it’s possible O’Donnell might get lost (figuratively speaking) on the road back to the Big Apple. The thinking about remounting the show could change.  After all, resurrecting the show in another city won’t be cheap.

But if “The Rosie Show” does go back up in NYC and fails again, it will be a truly humiliating turn of events for both O’Donnell and Winfrey.  But perhaps more of one for Winfrey, who has got a plate full of problems.

Future of Harpo Studios at stake

With O’Donnell presumably heading east and Winfrey out west, a big question still looms:  What becomes of Harpo Studios?  It’s possible that until the fallout from the O’Donnell debacle fully subsides, Winfrey will keep the studio open and operating and use it for production work related to OWN programming.

Or maybe not. 

With her cable channel and all of its key production people now in Los Angeles, it doesn’t really make sense to underwrite the cost of a Chicago facility for no real reason.

Chicago will never be a Hollywood by the Lake

Whatever happens, by now it’s painfully clear Harpo isn’t a great location for talk show hosts to develop a new show if they don’t have the clout of a Winfrey.  And who does these days?

So there you have it.  The exodus of another celebrity from their rapidly thinning ranks here in Chicago.  Winfrey gone. Michael Jordan gone.  O’Donnell going.  We think you get the picture.

As we’ve long maintained, Chicago is a pleasant Midwestern city.  But it will never — absolutely never — be a Hollywood by the Lake, an insidious nickname that some dreamers in this town keep wanting to make stick.

Let’s stop pretending it could stick.  Let’s wave buh-bye to O’Donnell and get back to being the nice, plain-talking Midwestern folk we always were. And always will be.

Contact Lewis Lazare at