Editorial: 'Rosie' lurches toward trouble

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Rosie O'Donnell and Gruner & Jahr USA ask a lot from advertisers. Their creation, Rosie magazine, in its brief life has never found the mass audience that predecessor McCall's once had. But it surprised skeptics by finding an audience nonetheless, and made Rosie an "I-think-I-can" story. That was before things fell apart with Ms. O'Donnell this summer.

That she became a thorn to Gruner & Jahr should surprise no one. We questioned the Rosie idea in this space when "Rosie's McCall's" was unveiled in late 2000, wondering how long her celebrity status would last and how her personality would wear with readers and advertisers.

"McCall's has aligned itself with a loudmouth," we wrote at the time. "That could help an aging magazine make noise to create buzz. But there are risks. . . . The biggest risk may be the fuzzy logic of this venture. What's the connection between aging McCall's and raging Rosie?"

Tyrannical magazine editors are part of the publishing landscape, but few have their name on the cover. Rosie exists because Ms. O'Donnell's anti-glamour, no-punches-pulled persona promised an anti-Oprah/anti-Martha model for magazine buyers looking for something different.

But advertisers must be a little dazed by recent events as this relationship spun wildly out-of-control. The flaws in the Gruner & Jahr/O'Donnell partnership-in which Ms. O'Donnell lent her name and editorial opinions but left ultimate control with Gruner & Jahr USA CEO Dan Brewster-are now clear.

That celebrities get over-inflated ideas of the value and power of their "brand" is not surprising. Business executives are expected to be more clear-eyed about such things. "Rosie" as an entertainment brand may fill a nightclub or concert hall. Rosie the magazine is a different proposition, where readers have more complicated likes and dislikes. Whatever else Ms. O'Donnell and Mr. Brewster may want Rosie to be, they also need to show that theirs is a creative and business marriage that has a chance of working. That was the question on Day 1 of Rosie's life. It's still the question now.

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