The woman who changed everything in the talk show world is none other than Rosie O'Donnell, or so Ashley Spencer makes the case in a lengthy piece for Vulture. The Rosie O’Donnell Show launched in 1996 in a way that was, well, different. It wasn't pretaped, for one; it was kid-friendly; it lacked the "endless TV conflict" supplied by the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich; it was even lighter than the drama Oprah often offered, a Koosh-ball-filled safe space for celebs. And it was a ratings dynamo. "Today it’s assumed that every host will act like a PR-friendly fan, and every fan will generate friendly PR. Segments are concocted to go viral," writes Spencer. "But when America was still running on dial-up, O’Donnell seized on a prescient spark. Without social media or YouTube, she managed to become a benevolent influencer and relatable best friend to the masses."
Spencer recounts O'Donnell's path to the show (movie filming was keeping her away from her young son), how she treated her staff (remarkably from a benefits standpoint, securing them paid summers off and a free on-set daycare), and shares some of her most memorable celebrity guests. That runs from the dreamy (Barbra Streisand and Tom Cruise) to a conversation with Tom Selleck in the wake of the Columbine shooting in which she went after him for more than 6 minutes over his NRA ties; it lives on as "one of daytime TV’s tensest moments," and it was somewhat of an aberration. Even when things took a turn—she greeted Donny Osmond by showing him evidence of her childhood adoration of him; he replied with a fat joke about her—she handled it as only Rosie could: "Invite Osmond back to beg for forgiveness and sing 'Puppy Love' to her while wearing a dog costume." (The full piece tracks her post-9/11 exit and how her "spirit ... still ripples across daytime and late night alike.)