It’s going to be so long “O” and hello “Ro” in Chicago’s West Loop.
Rosie O’Donnell, a multiple Emmy winner for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and former co-host of “The View,” is going to help fill the void at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios when Winfrey retires her nationally syndicated TV program after 25 seasons in May.
Chicago Harpo employees were told Monday that O’Donnell’s new one-hour daytime talk show, set to launch this fall on cable’s OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, will tape on Winfrey’s soon-to-be-vacated stage in the studio space at West Washington Boulevard and North Carpenter Street.
"Hello people of Harpo, it’s me, Rosie O’Donnell, star of ‘The Flintstones,’" O’Donnell said, referring to her 1994 film in a homemade video message shown to studio staff. "I just wanted to say: Hi, I’m coming to Chicago. Yes, I am, and I’m thrilled about it. And I get to work with all of you, who have created magnificent television for two decades-plus."
A child could be heard in the background and O’Donnell paused to say, “Quiet, Mommy’s working.” Then she continued: “It’s a huge thrill for me, and I’m beyond the beyond. And thank you, Oprah. And thank all you people there, some of you who are going to be sticking around and helping us make a kick-ass show for the Oprah Winfrey Network. And that’s it: Thrilled, thanks, and I hope I didn’t blow the surprise. Figure you already knew. Right?”
Winfrey, through a spokesman, said she was “delighted to welcome Rosie to the studio I’ve called home” since January 1990.
"Speaking from experience, she will be working with the best team in television in one of the greatest cities in the world," said Winfrey, a co-owner of Los Angeles-based OWN with Discovery Communications.
The cable channel launched in January. It has struggled to gain traction with viewers, although “Season 25: ‘Oprah’ Behind the Scenes” has developed a following in showing the hard work Harpo personnel have put into this final season of Winfrey’s syndicated program.
It’s not yet known how many of the 355 Chicago employees who were working at Harpo as of the end of last year will be needed to work on O’Donnell’s program. OWN has bought 130 episodes for next season, the same number of new hours as Harpo’s “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is producing this season for CBS Television Distribution.
"We’re going to sit down and have some really detailed, creative conversations (about the new show) with Rosie," said Erik Logan, who shares the presidency of Harpo Productions with Sheri Salata. "Once we get a sense of that, we’ll know the appropriate way to staff it. The great news is we’ve got a tremendous talent pool right here at 110 N. Carpenter to draw from.
"We’ve got the people here who’ve been producing the No. 1 show in daytime for 25 years," he said. "Rosie is stepping into a terrific situation. We’re going to have the best team on television, as Oprah has said time and time again, taking on one of the most important shows for OWN."
The O’Donnell announcement makes good a public promise Salata and Logan made in December 2009.
"For more than two decades, you have this relationship with Chicago — Chicago being our hometown city — so that is our charge here, to keep this Chicago studio strong," Salata told the Chicago Tribune at that time. "Without the ‘Oprah’ show, there definitely are some challenges to that."
The new program will be produced by O’Donnell and Harpo Studios, which will name an executive producer later.
"Rosie, God love her, she is a TV baby and she jumped at the chance to bring her new show to the famous stage at 110 N. Carpenter and to have this team, Oprah’s team, produce her new show," said Salata, who is also executive producer of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
Lisa Erspamer, OWN’s chief creative officer, said in a statement that the channel is “pleased to have our partners at Harpo producing Rosie’s talk show,” calling O’Donnell “an incredible talent.”
O’Donnell is a comedian, author, former magazine publisher, producer and actress who shot part of the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” in Chicago. She won six successive Daytime Emmys during her 1996-2002 run as host of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” in syndication. She also won a Primetime Emmy for her work on the 1998 Tony Awards telecast and co-hosted ABC’s “The View” between Meredith Vieira’s exit in 2006 and Whoopi Goldberg’s arrival in 2007.
Currently host of a regular program on Sirius XM Radio, O’Donnell has been an activist in drawing attention to issues such as gay adoption and her charitable organization, Rosie’s Theater Kids, provides arts education to underserved youths.