O'Donnell, NBC go primetime live

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Rosie O'Donnell is returning to television as host of a variety show revival from NBC.

NBC will air "Rosie's Variety Show" as an hourlong live special the night before Thanksgiving, with an eye toward expansion to a full series order should viewers embrace the project.

The special will feature celebrity guests, musical acts, comedy skits and a prize giveaway for the show's in-studio and home audiences. David Friedman ("Last Call With Carson Daly") has been tapped to executive produce along with O'Donnell.

The show's Nov. 26 premiere date manages to trump Fox's upcoming Osbourne family variety show, which is expected to debut in the winter or spring.

For NBC, the project's live aspect is of particular interest, both as a way of distinguishing the product from competitors and to discourage viewers from time-shifting the show. NBC has aired "America's Got Talent" results shows live this year and plans a quartet of "Saturday Night Live" primetime specials.

"This will reinvent the idea of what a variety show is for 2008," NBC vp alternative Craig Plestis said. "There's very few performers willing to put themselves out there live. It makes it more TiVo-proof, and it's something none of the cable networks can do."

Such classic variety titles as "The Carol Burnett Show" and "The Ed Sullivan Show" were massive primetime hits. Producers and networks have been trying to figure out how to revive the variety show for decades. In 2004, ABC drew viewers with "The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour," though follow-up editions were less successful.

The closest modern variation of the variety show that has drawn significant viewers has been NBC's "America's Got Talent."

"This is a genre that everybody is anticipating is going to come back," the CAA-repped Friedman said. "Rosie sort of invented the daytime variety show. Without question, Rosie is the right person to bring this back."

The project raises the prospect of a new regular TV gig for O'Donnell. Her "Rosie O'Donnell Show" was a daytime syndicated hit for five years until it left the air in 2001. Since then, O'Donnell has appeared in recurring roles on FX's "Nip/Tuck" and was featured on Showtime's "Queer as Folk." She also starred in the CBS telefilm "Riding the Bus With My Sister" and drew raves moderating the 10th season of ABC's "The View." (partialdiff)
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