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Behind the scenes: ‘Oprah’ vs. ‘The Rosie Show’

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Updated: November 16, 2011 10:31AM



Starting at 6 p.m. Monday, anyone with the cable channel OWN will be able to judge if “The Rosie Show” is a worthy successor to “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Chicagoans, though, have another point of comparison — the studio audience experience. While both shows attracted their share of out-of-town guests, local fans make up the bulk of the fawning audience.

I’ve attended three tapings of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” over the past decade: a show on animal antics, including a bear eating a hoagie; a retrospective look at 25 years of gay issues on “Oprah,” with special guest Greg Louganis, and perhaps the least memorable Oprah show ever, on how DNA works.

I also went to the first taping on Thursday of Rosie O’Donnell’s new show, with actress and Jenny Craig spokeswoman Carrie Fisher and Javier Colon, winner of NBC’s “The Voice.” The studio was mildly reconfigured; the stage floor is now hardwood, and there are 50 fewer audience seats. The lighting is dimmer in O’Donnell’s studio — maybe a nod to the evening air time — and there’s a rocking house band led by the woman behind the “Saturday Night Live” song “D--- in a Box.” And while Oprah’s visage still graces the outside of Harpo Studios, screens inside bear only Rosie’s name.

For the behind-the-scenes studio experience you can only get in the West Loop, here’s a look at Oprah vs. Rosie.

Accessibility

For more than two decades, tickets to “The Oprah Winfrey Show” were among the toughest to get in town. That’s not the case with the new show, at least not yet.

Multiple people at Rosie’s Thursday taping said they got tickets after applying at rosie.com the week before the show. Rosie’s show is also open to children. Several girls in the ’tween demographic admitted to skipping school to attend the taping with their moms. Kids under 18 and their parents are invited up to the stage at the end of the show to take pictures with Rosie.

These encounters may make up for awkward post-show conversations where kids wonder what Fisher was talking about when she spoke of electric shock therapy (“it really works”), why the late Sen. Ted Kennedy asked Fisher if she planned on having sex with former Sen. Chris Dodd or what Rosie meant when she talked about seeing cocaine coming out of Farrah Fawcett’s nostril.

Privacy factor

What happened in Oprah’s studio for the most part stayed in Oprah’s studio. Audience members lined up hours before a show to walk through a metal detector and surrender their purses, cell phones and cameras. Expect much shorter security lines at Rosie’s show, because those phones and cameras are coming in with you. At the conclusion of the show, a burst of confetti signaled to audience members it was time for them to snap their own pictures.

Also, during the shows I went to, Oprah never left the stage, throwing an occasional quip to the audience during commercial breaks but for the most part keeping to herself. O’Donnell walked into the audience during several breaks, shaking hands, telling jokes and answering questions. She also awkwardly pulled at her leggings several times, explaining,“the Spanx makes your pants fall down.”

Familiar faces

“Rosie” studio audience members who have attended an “Oprah” taping will recognize the excitable Sally Lou Loveman warming up the crowd in the pre-show. Her shtick is essentially unchanged from Oprah to Rosie. There was less emphasis Thursday on how the show is about love — that was a major part of the Oprah pre-show experience — though Loveman did bring love up several times on Thursday.

Before Oprah tapings, Loveman would ask audience members to hug each other. If that same request came down Thursday, it was before I got there. She slipped once and said “at ‘Oprah’ ” instead of “at ‘Rosie.’ ” The audience was forgiving.

O’Donnell said in an interview that she only brought a few staffers with her, so the rest of Thursday’s show crew was the same crew on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Crowd

The crowd packed into Rosie’s show seemed almost identical to an average “Oprah” show. They were mostly women, though some of the men in the audience were the most enthusiastic. (I’m talking about you, guy in the orange shirt who stood up waving a doll for Rosie to autograph.) There were standing ovations when Rosie came out on stage and people screaming her name during commercial breaks. There also was a show segment where audience members asked banal questions like, “Do your children want to get into show business?”

Freebies

Thursday’s show was a far cry from an “Oprah’s Favorite Things” episode, and nobody left with a car. But there was a surprising number of freebies, from cupcakes on the way in to lunch sacks filled with Toblerone and Keebler Chips Deluxe cookies. During a break, Rosie announced everyone in the audience was getting tickets to Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking,” playing through Oct. 16 in Chicago. And audience member Sam Shapiro, a software consultant from Wrigleyville, walked away with Pampered Chef pots and pans after winning the game show segment, something Rosie said will be part of every show.



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