September 05, 2006 02:00 PM

Rosie O’Donnell took over Meredith Vieira’s slot on The View Tuesday, and the immediate difference was probably as dramatic, pumped-up and attention-getting as Barbara Walters wanted. Walters, followed by the remaining girls Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, escorted O’Donnell in triumph onto the show’s new set, a cleaner, more angular stage with a lot of blue accents. O’Donnell promptly and very cheerfully dissed the old set as beige and grandmotherly – of which Rosie is neither. Three points:

1. Rosie’s makeover
Unlike Vieira, who comes from a news background and has moved to NBC’s Today, O’Donnell is a show-biz personality. The lady is always on. True, she’s softened her look, with longer, Vieiranian hair. Is it possible Walters is secretly orchestrating a Vertigo-like makeover, until Rosie becomes Meredith? That won’t happen. O’Donnell hardly ever lets up with the comic bluster, the double-takes, the deadpan faces. (Her eyes are especially expressive.) Sometimes I wonder if she and Nathan Lane are female and male counterparts. Nothing wrong with any of that–she’s fun, she’s smart. But when there’s so much energy, the show doesn’t seem to settle into a groove. Until Walters brings in a fifth member to replace Star Jones Reynolds – remember her, with her strange, sedating air of glamor and disgruntlement? – the tone may be out of whack.

2. Filling Meredith’s shoes
Vieira’s old role on The View – handling the latest headlines with a mix of commentary, dialogue and cute yet pertinent family detail–is pretty tricky. O’Donnell introduced the sad topic of Australian animal adventurer Steve Irwin, and started to discuss how she told her children about the loss of this man, a hero to them. But then somehow the talk momentarily veered into a discussion of Ben Affleck in his new movie, Hollywoodland. Meanwhile, the audience was still watching footage of Irwin struggling with a crocodile the size of a tractor trailer. This wasn’t strictly O’Donnell’s fault – Behar was the one who mentioned Affleck’s movie – but she’s the one holding the reins. Go ahead, Rosie. Crack the whip!

3. O’Donnell’s Tom Cruise thing
Can we clear this up and move on? At the start of the hour, O’Donnell nodded to an enormous floral display on the edge of the set and coyly indicated it had been sent by Mr. Cruise, who was famously her “crush” back when she had her own show. “He’s a very nice guy,” she said. And maybe he is. But she’d just been joking about taking her presumably psychotropic medications, which Mr. Cruise does not approve of. Nor would his religion be too whooped up about O’Donnell’s celebration of gay family life with partner Kelly. Walters promised that the Tom Cruise topic would come up again. If it does, let’s try for a little more real discussion, hmm? At one point, talking about Andre Agassi, O’Donnell observed: “Celebrities nowadays in our culture are sort of like the metaphors that people use to … bounce off what they feel about themselves.” The celebrities who host The View, however, aren’t just metaphors – they’re bright women, bursting with chat, and what they should be bouncing are ideas. Off each other.

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