07/15/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT
SINCE HER MORNING TALK SHOW PREmiered in early June, Rosie O'Donnell
has been compared to Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin so often that some people might get the idea the comparisons are apt. They are not. Douglas, a man with no identifiable talent, was an old fuddy-duddy long before he got old. Griffin had a certain amount of bite in his early New York days, but once he left Gotham for greener pastures, his shows suffered from criminal lameness. By contrast, Rosie O'Donnell
is clever, fast and infinitely more irreverent than either of her male predecessors. She has proven to be a gifted interviewer, an accommodating hostess and a star blessed with a beguiling capacity for self-deprecation. In short: not Whoopi Goldberg.
Some of O'Donnell's ploys, like her constant recycling of guest Donny Osmond's ill-considered remark about her portliness, have won the audience's affection while making Osmond look small and pathetic. And her affirmative-action booking policies—lots of women, lots of minorities, lots of young performers—give her program an entirely different feel from other talk shows. Gloria Estefan and Christine Lahti, performers who never look entirely comfortable on other gabfests, opened up for O'Donnell, while Sarah Jessica Parker
and Fran Drescher came across as less overtly showbizzy in the company of the self-described Carnie Wilson lookalike. Staged bits, like dispatching Carol Channing to Times Square's TKTS discount theater-ticket kiosk worked well, as have sendups such as O'Donnell's earnest rendition of "You Light Up My Life" with Martin Short. Each day the show has been on, O'Donnell has demonstrated that it is possible to be Middle American without being middle-of-the-road, to be sassy without being mean. In short: not Kathie Lee, not Dennis Miller.
The only dark clouds have been generic guests such as Tony Danza, a bona fide lounge lizard, and John Tesh, who left Entertainment Tonight to become a bona fide lounge lizard. Other than that, the show has been a rip-roaring success. Hopefully, this will lead to a long and rewarding second career, and O'Donnell won't need to do any more Dan Aykroyd movies in which she has to wear bondage gear.