Lesbian comic key to ratings

PinkNews.co.uk’s Ben Leung assesses the presenting future for lesbian comic Rosie O’Donnell

All good things must come to an end, and it seems like my love affair with file-sharing sites could be ending sooner than I’d anticipated – if those media bigwigs get their way.

One of the reasons why sites such as Youtube are so popular is the sheer volume and choice of materials available to watch for free. Pretty much anything you’ve ever wanted to see is there – random clips of Japanese game shows, newsflash when Diana was killed, great Olympic moments, Eurovision song contests, two blokes singing to their dog etc.

It’s just rather unfortunate that a large chunk of these were illegally uploaded.

So we might as well make the most of it while we can. And plenty of folks have been enjoying clips from the American daytime chat show, ‘The View’.

Hosted by five women – led by veteran journalist Barbara Walters (who’s nearly 80!), the talk show has endured a turbulent year both on and off the screen, losing two of its original members: Meredith Viera to NBC’s morning news programme, ‘Today’, and Star Jones Reynolds, a larger-than-life Afro-Caribbean who was sacked for ‘being unpopular with viewers’. ‘Loose Women’ this ain’t!

Jones’s dramatic dismissal – a bitter, resentful, slightly tearful and extremely contrived piece of television (thus naturally a massive hit on Youtube!) – not only helped raise the show’s profile (thanks in part to the insults and accusations flying in all sorts of direction as to who was responsible for her sacking….that would be Ms Walters), but also the media frenzy surrounding her replacement – Rosie O’Donnell.

A former chat-show host herself, the lesbian comic has never been one to mince her words, and many believed her long-running feud with Jones over the latter’s weight-loss methods undoubtedly contributed to the former lawyer’s demise from ‘The View’.

(O’Donnell, by the way, also has a feud on-going with the former Cheers actress Kirsty Alley over the same issue.)

Since assuming the ‘moderating chair’ role back in September, the self-confessed liberal has bulldozed her way through numerous discussions and interviews, dispensing with the gentile style which had been the trademark in the show.

Right-wing media figures such as Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, who at 6’3″, is no pushover, was amongst the first to receive the O’Donnell treatment as the pair scrapped over the issue of Iraq in a memorable duel.

Just last week, she offended the Chinese community by outwardly mocking their language in a 30-second tirade.

This followed hot on the heels of an infamous interview with a less-than-sober Danny DeVito. In between, O’Donnell also had the nerve of getting into a heated debate with Walters – who’s also her boss – over the issue of wealth. And in the past week, co-host Joy Behar joined in the fun by comparing the former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld to Adolf Hitler during a chat about the cover of Time Magazine, which outraged the right-wing media and Jewish groups.

But by far the most controversial moment came late last month concerning the singer Clay Aiken, a former runner-up in ‘American Idol’, who has long been dogged by speculation and rumours about sexuality – and not even the great Larry King could manage to squeeze an answer out of the clean-living singer.

The whole shenanigan began with Aiken’s appearance as co-host of the morning chat show ‘Live With Regis and Kelly’. Midway through the programme, Aiken, who was standing in for Regis Philbin, inexplicably put his hand over co-host Kelly Ripa’s mouth in an attempt to ask a question during an interview, which prompted an immediate rebuke by the 36-year-old mother-of-three who said, “I don’t know where that hand has been, honey”.

Ripa’s reaction was deemed hypocritical as she had said nothing to Simon Cowell who had done the same to her in an earlier show.

Naturally, O’Donnell – a long-time advocate for gay rights – reacted to Ripa’s reaction with fury on ‘The View’ and vented,

“If that was a straight man, if that was a cute man, if that was a guy that she didn’t question his sexuality, she would have said a different thing. To me that’s a homophobic remark.”

The situation was only diffused – slightly – when Ripa rang in to ‘The View’ and confronted O’Donnell to defend her action. An uneasy truce remains to this day.

However, the long-term damage of this episode is unlikely to be felt by either women; instead, it is Aiken who has to bear the brunt of being unexpectedly outed by O’Donnell.

This led to some critics arguing that O’Donnell had overreacted by dragging sexuality into this.

The upside to the unfortunate incident is that viewing figures have since shot up – it’s now the fourth most popular show on daytime television – and the profile of O’Donnell has increased further, though not necessarily for the right reasons.

But in a land where advertisers and viewing figures matter more than anything else, the show’s television executives must be rubbing their hands with glee, including Walters, who co-created the show.

O’Donnell’s appointment to such a prestigious presenting role was always going to be a gamble, and Walters knew that. In truth, the ever-so-serious veteran journalist – she belongs to an elite band of famous people who gets a two-hour extravaganza on The Biography Channel! – can’t be altogether pleased with the negative publicity O’Donnell has generated since joining her programme.

However, she also knows deep down that O’Donnell could well have single-handedly revitalised one of the most powerful yet flagging franchises on American television. And for that reason, don’t expect O’Donnell and co to go down the charming and gentle route taken by their rival Ellen de Generes any time soon.