Bil Browning

Rosie vs Ellen: The Battle of the Lesbian Variety Shows

Filed By Bil Browning | November 30, 2008 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie, Rosie Live, Rosie O'Donnell, Rosie's variety show

What a great week for queer television. Not only did Thanksgiving week bring us the Macy's Day Parade, but as an added bonus we got the Battle of the Lesbian Variety Shows!


One was spectacular. The other was a spectacular flop. Details from your dedicated reality TV authority after the jump.

Rosie Live kicked off on Thanksgiving Eve. We set our DVR to record. We were excited to see Rosie making a comeback. Paige asked us a million times if we'd remembered to set the DVR. We went out for dinner that night and she was on the edge of her seat to come back and watch the variety show.

We eagerly flipped on the TV when we got home. By the end of the first act, Paige had declared, "This show sucks." and started reading a book. (And if you know Paige, reading a book is not her favorite activity.)

Rosie's opening monologue sucked; the jokes were all about her. Her first guest was Liza Minelli. Seriously. It doesn't get any more gay or dated, but the love-fest was on as each guest sucked up to Rosie. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse than watching Alex Baldwin sticking his face down Rosie's bosom, Clay Aiken "stopped by" in his Spamelot costume for some banter about how much they love each other and everything they have in common.

iPhone users: Click to watch

Didn't that coy back and forth that ends with, "We're both Gaaaay-briel Reese fans!" make you want to throw up? Maybe not the best joke for the long-time closeted Aiken or the "I Love Tom Cruise!" lesbian? Their histories of avoiding any discussion of their "private life" (read: sexuality) for career reasons until they needed publicity was the first thing that came to my mind.

The rest of the show was a rushed and horrible mishmash of B rate talent giving hurried performances and engaging in banter that would make Bruce Vilanch blush. TV Guide's excoriating review nailed the hour-long special:

If the TV variety format weren't already dead, the ghastly ego trip of NBC's Thanksgiving-eve turkey Rosie Live would surely have killed it. Like the pie Alec Baldwin predictably pushed into Conan O'Brien's face that fell to the floor without sticking, the entire hour landed with a sickening, sad, ill-conceived thud. It felt like an off night at America's Got Talent, bookended by wobbly appearances from Liza Minnelli and Gloria Estefan, each forced to perform with the caterwauling host, Rosie O'Donnell.
I miss the Rosie from the early days of her talk show, when she showcased the latest of Broadway and pop alongside show-biz legends with equal glee and reverence, before it became all about her. I was hoping Rosie Live would recapture some of that magic, but instead Rosie the egotist hogged the spotlight to everyone's discomfort and detriment. Far from bringing the variety show back to life, Rosie stuck a fork in it, drove the last nail into its coffin, broke its back, you pick the metaphor.

Rosie will not be hosting any further variety shows. Thank God.

While Rosie Live was all about Rosie, Ellen Degeneres' Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show was all about the performers. Perhaps it was her experience hosting so many awards shows, but the show's pacing and timing was a thousand times better; nothing felt rushed and awkward.

Instead, Ellen spent her time in the spotlight gushing over the performers instead of vice versa. I don't remember many celebrities, but I do remember being amazed at some of the performers. But most of all? I remember Ellen smiling a lot and encouraging the entertainers. Her opening monologue wasn't memorable, but the opening dance scene coming into the theater was!

Part One

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Part Two

iPhone users: Click to watch

Ellen's acts performed acrobatics galore, sang, danced and generally looked like they were having a fun time. She brought one guy out of the audience to spin inside a giant metal hula hoop and then asked him to spin her in it; in another act a woman spun in circles from a huge pole. The pole was balanced on her brother; she was held on to the pole by her hair.

TBS scored a winner with Ellen's variety show. NBC? Not so much.

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I think the reason Ellen is so loved is that she always looks like she's having fun. Her eyes light up and she always lets everyone in on the joke. Her commentary is on the absurdities of life that everyone can relate to.

I stopped enjoying Rosie around the same time her daytime show started because it seemed like she was out of her element and couldn't be herself. Now it seems like everything for her is personal and she's lost the insight into the larger world that makes a truly great comedian.

I completely agree with this. Ellen approaches everything she does with this almost childlike sort of joy. She respects her guests, but more than anything, she just goes and finds what sort of silly thing she can do. I could watch that segment of her with the silly Hawaii chair almost endlessly.

She reminds me of the early David Letterman, just looking for a silly and whacky thing that she could do that might be entertaining for her audience.

I think Rosie is best when she unscripted, saying whatever she feels like saying:)

I watched that variety show........meh!!!

I know, I loved her on The View. That was watchable Rosie.

Maybe she can get a job with MSNBC. I'd love it.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | November 30, 2008 8:51 PM

You know its bad when a teenager wants to read a book rather than watch tv.

I didn't watch the show because I had a feeling it would be awful and apparently it was.

I think we need to have group therapy sessions for those who witnessed Rosie Live. Not since the cinematic productions of Allan Carr have I seen such a disaster. Did Nancy Walker direct?

I didn't see it either. I LOVE Rosie, so I feel bad for her. Oh well, that's the chance you take I guess.

I suppose I'm in the minority: I greatly enjoyed every hokey minute of Rosie's show, because, to me, it seemed like it was trying to be hokey and nostalgic. Now, one may have to be old enough to appreciate how and why it was nostalgic (Carol Burnett Show, etc.). There was plenty of talent on the show otherwise.

I do also like Rosie's heart. Remember that she was ONCE called "The Queen of Nice" -- ? It's hard to believe now! Either she's gotten meaner, or she's let out a mean (or at least bitter) side that previously was suppressed.

Ellen, on the other hand, seems like a genuinely nice, and extremely charming person; and she also happens to be IMMENSELY talented as a comedian. I do like Rosie, a lot, and appreciate her outspokenness, but she's no Ellen -- no one is.

okay, so Rosie is a fat, crass, self-indulgent wicked witch of the east. she's the tough, hard-working, reality smack-in-the-face lesbo we've been taught to fear and hate. it's a given -- along with all the rest of those acceptable middle-brow standards that gay culture pretends to flaunt in our present-day utterly self-conscious (winking to the camera), self-promoting ersatz camp style.

on the other hand, Ellen's got the enviable blond and blue-eyed boy-next-door, cool and hip by birth charm of southern california, kool-aid, and childless marriages. she's the pre-packaged, wrapped in plastic, overproduced hollywood version of "laid-back, friendly dyke" we're all becoming programmed to endlessly lust and pine after.

whatever happened to real entertainment, not the kind that offers relief from the problems of the world through "let's be reasonable, sensible adults, sit down, and talk it over" and come up with a roundtable solution?

personally, i prefer my bitches raw, angry, bitter, and powerful enough to kick the shit outta anyone threatening our kid in the schoolyard, right along with those standing-in-line herd of ass-licking pc lemmings and the oh-so-edgy, tatooed tv-guide critics (Bil, who will you quote next? reader's digest?!!).

in brief, i cast my vote for the true maverick.

Rosie's show was painful. The conversations and skits were forced and exposed what seems obvious, she is an uneasy performer.

Ellen is much more natural but her talk show bores me.