Rosie O'Donnell gave NBC a real turkey.
The network's attempt to revive the primetime variety show failed to draw an audience Wednesday night, tying for the evening's lowest-rated program.
A mere 5 million viewers tuned in for the 8 p.m. premiere of "Rosie Live," with the program earning a 1.2 preliminary adults 18-49 rating. The telecast matched ABC's recently canceled "Pushing Daisies" as the night's lowest-rated program on a major broadcast network.
NBC had high hopes for the special and planned to expand the program into a series should viewers re-embrace the decades-old variety format. Other networks, too, were watching closely since several are developing variety shows of their own.
"There's a notion that the climate is right for the genre to make a comeback," emailed one executive at a rival network. "I guess we now know what not to do, thanks to Rosie."
Segments included Kathy Griffin impersonating Nancy Grace, Alec Baldwin hitting Conan O'Brian with a pie, O'Donnell singing "City Lights" with Liza Minnelli and Jane Krakowski doing a product-placement-themed striptease for White Castle burgers and Crest Whitestrips.
Networks have been looking for variety show programming as a cheap option to fill their schedules. But the idea has been sought by executives due the format's rock-bottom cost, cross-promotion possibilities and advertiser-friendly format. In other words, the neo-variety show is a retread designed to solve financial woes rather than an act of programming inspiration -- a bean-counting origin story that makes it tough to imagine an exciting final product.
NBC's variation, in particular, seemed unlikely to attract a broad audience given O'Donnell's divisive personality. Stocked with appearances by Alannis Morrisette, Ne Yo, Rachael Ray, Harry Connick Jr., Clay Aiken and Gloria Estefan, along with Minnelli, Baldwin, Griffin and Krakowski, the lineup's appeal also skewed heavily female for a primetime show airing on the eve of a family holiday.
One special that did perform well last night was Barbara Walters' interview with Barack and Michelle Obama (11.6 million, 3.0 rating). The interview nearly matched "CSI: NY" in the 10 p.m. hour and gave ABC its highest non-awards show rating in the time period in more than a year.