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February 19, 2014

Looking back at the 1990s through one of its most popular shows, something no one has ever done before on the internet.

Debuting on June 10, 1996 as a replacement for a failed talk show hosted by one of the members of Wilson Phillips (yeah, the ’90s were weird), The Rosie O’Donnell Show was a surprising mega-hit, right out the gate. Designed as more of a throwback variety show, it felt like something Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin would have hosted, in a time when anyone with a first and last name was seemingly handed some third-rate Maury Povich knockoff show.

With a familiar format, Rosie set out to be a late-night show for the after-school set. Honestly, her show felt a bit like an early incarnation of what Jimmy Fallon is now doing. Celebrity games, friendly interviews, a host who didn’t have dead eyes … all things that just seem, well, fun. And it won her a ton of awards.

Rosie devoted plenty of airtime to things she actually loved, like Broadway and classic TV, creating a show that was uniquely hers but felt like it was for everyone. Looking back on the show now, it somehow feels timeless, while actually screaming, “WAKE UP, PEOPLE! IT’S THE ’90s!” Everything’s bright, everything’s sugar-coated, and everything is leading up to a decade of post-9/11 darkness, where we weren't allowed to have any positive, light-hearted fun.

While Rosie initially planned to do the show for just five years, she would later sign on for a sixth after being offered "that sick Oprah money,” which is, in and of itself, a very ’90s amount of money to be offered. After that, as promised, she just walked away, leaving behind her goody-two-shoes reputation and finally letting go of what was left of the ’90s.

Thanks to the internet and the way our brains remember events, The Rosie O’Donnell Show now serves as a perfect time capsule for the 1990s. Below are 13 Things that you might find inside this very hypothetical time capsule.


Nothing about a talk show can give you a greater sense of the time it takes place in than who decides to drop by. But with hundreds of episodes to choose from, how do you get a sense of the who’s who of who’s coming to do Rosie? RANDOMNESS, OF COURSE!

So that's just what I did. I went over to IMDB (an internet website) and selected one episode at random from each calendar year that the show was on and just jotted down who the guests were that day. The results are hilariously ’90s.

  • June 10, 1996 - Toni Braxton, George Clooney, Susan Lucci
  • October 17, 1997 - Ice-T, Carly Simon
  • September 23, 1998 - Julie Andrews, Vince Vaughn, Debi Mazar
  • June 17, 1999 - Noah Wyle, Steve Irwin
  • March 20, 2000 - Joshua Jackson, *NSYNC
  • February 22, 2001 - Scott Wolf, Lionel Richie
  • May 10, 2002 - Julia Roberts, Chris Kattan, Jennifer Love Hewitt

TL;DNR? The following screenshot should suffice.


Just look at this fly gear, with the possible exception of the Carlton Dance and Operation Desert Storm, I can’t think of anything more ’90s.


If you’re at all familiar with modern-day Rosie, you know this reputation is long gone. (Not that she’s Hitler or anything, but still.) But The Rosie O’Donnell Show was sugar-sweet TV made for kids, moms, and, I assume, 15-year-old boys who had nothing to do that summer it premiered and wanted to hear Shaquille O’Neil talk about what it was like to be on the Orlando Magic.

Rosie, however, came from a stand-up background and she always had a little edge to her, even though for most of the show’s run she kept that in check.

Ultimately, what made her the Queen of Nice? It actually wasn't that hard, because his was what she had to go up against.


The Rosie O’Donnell Show was so ’90s, JFK Jr. was still alive!


Every episode of the show opened with an audience member introducing the day’s guests and cueing the band. Funny thing about that: Normal people aren’t meant to be on TV! And while producer’s were never keen on the idea, Rosie insisted upon talking to a “real person” on every show. Take that, Susan Sarandon!

Anyhow, on this particular episode, a member of a Rosie O’Donnell AOL Chat Room is the guest announcer and she and Rosie have a quick discussion about it. It’s a wonderfully delightful glimpse at the awful state of ’90s internet.


Like everyone in the ’90s, Rosie O’Donnell had a huge crush on Tom Cruise and wouldn’t shut up about it.

Still liking Tom Cruise is the most ’90s things to ever happen, ever.


It’s easy to be hyperbolic, as witnessed by every other sentence in this article, but nothing is more ’90s than ’90s music. And, boy oh boy, did The Rosie O’Donnell Show have some musical guests from the 1990s.

All Three Members of TLC Backstage at the Grammys

*NSYNC Visits an Amusement Park

Backstreet Boys Prove *NSYNC Was Better at Singing

Britney Spears Promotes Her Movie Because Britney Spears Was Allowed to Star in a Movie

Quick Musical Side Note: Her house band, led by Broadway legend John McDaniel, was called the McDLTs. This is actually an ’80s food reference, so please don’t use that against me in this whole ’90s discussion. Honestly, if you think about it, our favorite thing to do in the ’90s was talk about the ’80s, so actually an ’80s reference is, in fact, the most ’90s thing you could do.


Rosie O’Donnell was more or less singularly responsible for the success of Tickle Me Elmo. This is a true fact. Do with that information what you will.


Every decade, it’s good to check on the state of Kids' TV. The children are our future, after all. And so long as Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers are still on the air, things will be fine.

On November 11, 1998, Rosie hosted a special, fully-immersive episode of her show from the set of Sesame Street.

Too soon to use this one again?


And in perhaps the coolest interview throughout the run of her show, Rosie got to sit down one-on-one with Mr. Rogers. Man, talk about a good gig.


Hosting a talk show for soccer moms in the ’90s sadly didn’t allow Rosie to come out of the closet just yet. Turns out the ’90s weren’t all great after all. Except, maybe she did? Watch this clip where Rosie discusses her interview with Ellen Degeneres around the time her TV character was coming out of television closet. Most importantly, it's funny. Despite what sexists say, women can be and are funny!

Of course, Ellen would later go on to host her own celebrity-driven daytime talk show, as an openly gay women, but that’s the 2000s for you.


Man, we’re getting real serious all of a sudden. But hey, time capsules ain’t all candy bars and videogames.

Perhaps the most iconic moment from The Rosie O’Donnell Show (aside from Donny Osmond calling her fat once) was her confrontation of NRA spokesman Tom Selleck in the wake of the Columbine shootings. It’s not necessarily funny, but it’s certainly fascinating TV.

If nothing else, feel free to laugh at Tom Selleck trying to pull off a full beard and not just a mustache, as if he weren’t Tom Selleck.


Let’s lighten things back up! Remember these people? I'll bet they wish you did!

Frankie Muniz used to be famous!

Mr. Sarah Michelle Gellar

11-Year-Old Billionaires Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen


When Rosie finally hung it up to hang with her kids, the show was handed over to long-time guest host Caroline Rhea, allowing us all to say goodbye to the 1990s after collectively thinking, “Yeah, that’s probably enough of that.”

That’s all for this installment of Unnecessary Tribute. Join us next time when we’ll discuss why Family Matters does indeed Matter.

Previously on Unnecessary Tributes: 9 Roles That Transformed John Candy into America’s Greatest Babysitter