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Everything’s Coming Up Rosie: Behind the Scenes at O’Donnell’s New Talk Show

By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 12, 2011 3:00PM

2011_9_12_rosie.jpg The first test show for the Chicago-based “The Rosie Show” starring Rosie O’Donnell was filmed before a live studio audience last week at Harpo Studios in Studio 1—the same sound stage where Oprah Winfrey taped her show for the last 25 years.

O’Donnell—a multiple daytime Emmy winner as host of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” (1996-2002)—sat behind an open, see-through desk in front of an audience of about 250, including O’Donnell’s daughter, Chelsea.

Earlier this year, O’Donnell told O Magazine that her new show, which will air on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), will be less celebrity-driven than her previous talk show with a focus on “real people and real issues.”

"The Rosie Show" was originally conceived as a daytime show, but will now air weeknights at 6 pm, Central Time.

Chicagoist spoke with a member of the audience from the first test show, Jeff Rieck, 40, a resident of Uptown/Buena Park, to get a behind-the-scenes view of the new talk show.

Chicagoist: Was there an audience warm-up comedian?

Jeff Rieck: There was a warm-up person but she was a stage manager or something like that, giving everyone the low-down on what to expect, rules, logistics, basic stuff, but she wasn’t a comedian. She was actually really fun, though.

Chicagoist: Talk about the moment Rosie appeared on stage.

Jeff Rieck: Rosie appeared just like it was a real show. Her live band was playing, and suddenly, she gets introduced and she pops out from behind her curtain like she did on her original talk show—so that was kind of a cool carryover, but I think that was the only thing that isn’t brand new. She was out a little after 11:00 am, and the show itself wasn’t over until about 12:30.

Chicagoist: I’m guessing Rosie had an opening monologue—what did she talk about?

Jeff Rieck: Her opening monologue was 32 minutes long, and she joked later on about how the length should have actually been 10 minutes and that she’s not used to having to conform to the rigid constraints of television right now. It was really endearing and made me love her even more that she has the ability to just get up there and basically talk off the top of her head for a half-hour, keep an audience’s attention, and be hilarious. In between segments “Ro” interacted with the audience until the director started counting her back to air.

Chicagoist: What did she have to say about her new home, Chicago?

Jeff Rieck: She is living here and looking for a house now. She told the studio audience—many of whom were Chicagoans—that she loves it here, and she listed all the things that she really likes about Chicago versus New York City—wide streets, clean, friendly, and no one has given her the finger yet! But, the best part? That was when she admitted that she has had to adjust to our funny Chicago accent, which she imitates really well, by the way. It was so funny to hear a Long Island gal make fun of our Chicago dialect!

Chicagoist: Was she a ball of nervous energy? What was her vibe and how did she look?

Jeff Rieck: Ro looks amazing—I’d never guess she was 49! She was wearing black pants, kinda like leggings, but I don’t know what they are called, and a black top with a jacket/sweater over it. She actually made fun of her “fashion miss-steps” over the years and she showed the audience photos her staff had found via Google Images. She said they are trying to make her more fashionable, and she joked that she was determined to find her style before her 50th birthday in March. I thought she seemed 100% calm and together. While her staff members were buzzing all around her in between segments, Rosie would just chat with people in the audience like all those people around her weren’t there. I don’t know how she did that.

Chicagoist: Who were her first celebrity guests—were they local or did they have any connection to Chicago?

Jeff Rieck: Her guests were Melissa Gilbert—who Rosie calls “Missy G,” and Jenifer Lewis, who will star in the new NBC series “The Playboy Club,” which of course takes place in Chicago. Both guests, according to Rosie, have been her close, personal friends for several decades. Melissa Gilbert and Jenifer Lewis told stories about Rosie, about how they had first met and when. At one point, while Rosie was off to the side of the studio consulting with crew members, she said something like ‘Jenifer, entertain my people’ and she did, like a consummate professional in a night club, walking through the studio and getting people to sing with her. You could tell that both Lewis and Gilbert are really fond of Rosie, and that they really were more than just your average celebrity guests on a talk show.

Chicagoist: How is Rosie’s talk show different than Oprah’s?

Jeff Rieck: Two huge format changes from Oprah’s show are that kids are permitted, even encouraged, to attend tapings. Ro loves kids, of course! The other big difference is that cameras are permitted. You are told at the end of the taping that you can take your cameras out, and then Rosie stands on stage, and you can take as many pictures of her and the set as you want.

Rosie said she is still in awe of Oprah and that she adores her and respects her as a person and an icon, but to me Rosie is clearly so much more casual, open, and accessible to people. You never stop laughing—even if the topic is serious—because Rosie has the unique ability to see the bright, humorous side of even the most somber of topics. I can’t wait to go back and see her again and for the show to start next month!

"The Rosie Show" premieres October 10th on the OWN network. For ticket information, go here.