"Fox 411": Walters Picked Rosie for ABC After Seeing Her Pro-Gay Film (Updated)

April 30th, 2006 7:13 PM

Roger Friedman, who writes the "Fox 411" for FoxNews.com, reported Saturday that Barbara Walters decided to pick Rosie O'Donnell to replace Meredith Vieira after being touched to tears at a screening of Rosie's documentary about her gay-family cruises. (Update: The New York Times confirms today. See below.)

Friedman began with the note that O'Donnell's contract apparently states she cannot chop off her hair to look "butch" as she did at the bitter, back-biting end of her last daytime talk show. It should be noted that Friedman doesn't nail every detail in his report, since he calls Elisabeth Hasselbeck "Debbie." Is he still remembering the long-departed first "View" co-host to get the boot, Debbie Matenopoulos? Here's a sample of his take:

You may wonder when and how this arrangement with "The View" came about. I was not surprised to be told that it all occurred on the night that HBO screened Rosie and her partner Kelli’s documentary about their gay family cruise line about a month ago. I distinctly recall Barbara Walters coming out of the screening room, wiping tears from her eyes. It was quite obvious as the mother of an adopted daughter, she was incredibly moved.

Apparently, on the spot Walters asked O’Donnell if she’d be interested in taking Vieira’s job should the latter bolt for the Today Show. Rosie didn’t believe it, and responded, “Sure. Call me.”

And that’s what Walters did the minute she knew for certain that Vieira was leaving "The View." It was a smart choice, because O’Donnell’s empathy and sincerity radiate from the television set. At the same time, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. If nothing else, “The View” will become appointment television, edgy and worth watching—particularly if O’Donnell and Hasselbeck, who has identified herself as right wing—tangle on issues involving gay parenting, adoption, abortion, etc.

Joining “The View,” O’Donnell says, will also be ideal for two other reasons: she can leave the city by 12:30 pm and be home with her kids when they return from school. And she’s not carrying an entire show on her back. She has co-hosts who will help with the burden of a five times a week live broadcast.

“She wants to play with friends,” says a source. And now she’ll get to do that. (Hat tip: Drudge Report)

UPDATE: Jacques Steinberg reported in today's New York Times that Friedman had it right:

After emerging teary-eyed from a screening on March 28 of an HBO documentary about a cruise for gay parents and their families, Barbara Walters, made a beeline for the film's star, Rosie O'Donnell. 

Ms. Walters told her longtime friend Ms. O'Donnell how much she had admired the film, and then, as Ms. Walters later recalled, whispered a question in Ms. O'Donnell's ear: "Would you ever consider coming back to television and being on 'The View'?"

...But as they stood outside the screening room at HBO headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, Ms. O'Donnell did not hesitate to give an answer. "For you, I would do anything," she recalled telling Ms. Walters. "Call my agent."

A deal — in which Ms. O'Donnell agreed to join "The View" for at least a year, not only as a co-host but also in Ms. Vieira's role as moderator — was struck in very short order, both women said. And just as Ms. Couric and Ms. Vieira are likely to make a profound impact on their new programs by virtue of their mere presence, so too is Ms. O'Donnell expected to alter the tone and chemistry of "The View." Since its inception in August 1997, the cast of on-air principals — Ms. Walters, Ms. Vieira, Star Jones Reynolds and Joy Behar — had remained intact, other than an occasional substitution in the slot set aside for a more junior co-host, currently Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

While Ms. Vieira, 52, and Ms. O'Donnell, 44, are both outspoken, including in their criticism of the American-led invasion of Iraq, Ms. Vieira is a veteran broadcast journalist who tends to deliver her views, whether on politics or even her "View" cast members, with a hammer sheathed in velvet. Ms. O'Donnell, who was a stand-up comic before she was a talk show host and who now has her own blog, www.rosie.com, is more likely to wield a sledgehammer.