Warner works on making Rhea into Rosie

Caroline Rhea is Warner Bros.' solution to its soon-to-depart Rosie O'Donnell Show, and a plot line is in place to bring Rhea into the picture.

Warner Bros. executives, who've been on the hunt for awhile for a suitable Rosie replacement, will officially give Rhea her own talk show in fall 2002 (as first reported in last Friday's B&C fax). Paramount's Big Ticket Television attempted to bring Rhea into syndication this year, but station interest was lukewarm and it never got off the ground.

Warner Bros.' Rhea effort is largely a Rosie replica, with many members of O'Donnell's current New York-based production team on board. But some new components are being planned especially for Rhea. Starting this fall, Rhea will first be eased into Rosie as a recurring guest host. Then by the 2002/2003 season, she'll be completely at the helm of her own, still untitled, talk strip. At that point, O'Donnell will shift into an executive consultant role on the series, which will continue to be produced by Telepictures.

Rosie's current contract with stations ends in May 2002, and insiders are saying that Warner Bros. will be shopping its new Rhea concept to those same outlets. Warner Bros. apparently wants to put a stop to other 2002 series, like Columbia TriStar's Pyramid, which have been trying to slip into Rosie's time slots. At this point, it's unclear which stations have O.K'd the facelift.

Giving a thumbs up to the developments, O'Donnell said "it time to pass the baton" and described Rhea, a regular on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, as "very funny" and is someone who "cares about people in a way that's relatable and accessible."

O'Donnell has been vocal for months that she has been looking to stop hosting her show to spend more time with her kids.

Syndication executives have typically lauded Rosie for re-energizing the talk genre when it debuted in 1996. Yet in recent seasons, Rosie's ratings have dropped significantly. For the most recent ratings period ended July 15, Rosie hit a 2.1 household Nielsen score, a new all-time low for the series. - Susanne Ault