Rosie O’Donnell Addresses 'Toxic' Daytime Talk Shows and How She Avoided It (Exclusive)

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Rosie O'Donnell is always doing what she can to stay above the fray by showing respect and sharing kindness.

ET's Denny Directo recently spoke with O’Donnell -- while promoting her new Paramount+ documentary, Rosie’s Theater Kids -- and the longtime TV personality and actress reflected on the spate of recent controversies surrounding toxic and hostile work environments on different daytime talk show sets.

Specifically, O'Donnell reflected on how she avoided creating that sort of environment on her own eponymous talk show, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which ran for six seasons from 1996 to 2002.

"We had a really wonderful working environment," O'Donnell recalled. "But, you know, we were the first of that kind of show... [and] because we were the first one, and we had done it, and we had gotten so much acclaim in such a short time, you know everybody was happy."

"I made sure that the staff was off in the summers when we had vacation, and that was unheard of," she continued. "I made sure there was a nursery on staff, we had a very content, happy staff."

O'Donnell added, "In fact, they keep throwing reunion parties every five years, and everybody comes. But it was a different time, I think, and fame was different."

Quoting Boy George from the musical Taboo, "'Fame is the impending, glittering disaster,' right? And you never know how people are gonna do under the glare of fame. And for some people, it takes its toll."

Although, O'Donnell also suggested that sometimes the tension and hostility in a workplace, or exhibited by a talk show host, can be influenced and exacerbated by what is going on off-set.

"I also think it depends on what else you have going on in your life," she shared. "[What] you have to focus on and to ground you. It's hard to stay grounded in the Showbiz world."

As for her advice for others hosting shows and getting into that world, O'Donnell explained, "You got to talk to everybody... You got to treat people with respect and honor their dedication."

O'Donnell also opened up about the new documentary, Rosie’s Theater Kids, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the program O'Donnell started in New York to bring music and arts programs and funding to disadvantaged public schools.

"I started this program when I left my show in 2002, and I had raised a lot of money for a lot of organizations, but I never got that one-on-one, face-to-face kind of interaction that saved me as a kid in public school, with what happened to be a math teacher," O'Donnell explained. "Now, I failed math a bunch of times, but she was so loving and supportive. She was a new teacher. I was a young girl whose mom had just died, and she took me under her wing and it restored my faith in humanity and in life."

"I mean she was the first person to say 'I love you' to me. She was the first person to hug me," O'Donnell recalled. "So my getting to go meet all those kids in fifth and sixth and seventh grade, it's like looking back at myself and thinking, 'How lucky I am to be able to give to them what saved me.?' One teacher who cares. And who's going to hold on forever?"

Rosie’s Theater Kids is streaming now on Paramount+.


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