A Rosie Forecast

Shortly after the dismally unentertaining musical Seussical opened on Broadway last winter, the ubiquitous talk show host and would-be actress [...]

February 1 2001 by Joe Queenan


Shortly after the dismally unentertaining musical Seussical opened on Broadway last winter, the ubiquitous talk show host and would-be actress Rosie O’Donnell announced that she would be temporarily taking over the lead role in the play. The $10.5 million show, a haphazard pastiche of various famous Dr. Seuss stories, had been savaged by critics when it debuted in late November.

At the time, the consensus seemed to be that the story was somewhat pointless, the score undistinguished, and the acting not quite up to par. Much of the criticism was directed at the star, the gifted but completely miscast David Shiner, a professional clown and alumnus of the renowned Cirque du Soleil. Though a gamer, Shiner was saddled with a complete inability to act, sing, or dance. That combination would sink any Broadway production.

For obvious reasons, O’Donnell’s decision to step into the breach was greeted with glee by the play’s embattled producers. Seussical ticket sales immediately exploded; the New York Times reported that O’Donnell’s presence in the role of the Cat in the Hat could triple the show’s daily take. Meanwhile, Shiner took a much-needed vacation in Europe.

It is a measure of O’Donnell’s impact as a cultural monolith that her intervention in a crisis such as this should reap immediate financial rewards for the various participants. For years, O’Donnell has been a champion of shallow, critically maligned, middlebrow entertainment, and what she lacks in sophistication and taste she more than makes up for with pluck. What she’s demonstrated is that she can not only move a market, but almost single-handedly sell the public a product it did not previously want.

This being the case, it would seem logical for O’Donnell to expand her horizons. For starters, she could step in for a few months and take over as the president of NASDAQ. Many observers believe that last year’s NASDAQ implosion was long overdue, that the tech sector was wildly overvalued, and while I own a few of these previously overvalued stocks, I am willing to concur. The tech sector did need to be taken down a peg or two.

But did it actually need to be taken down 2,800 pegs? Looking back on things, the complete massacre of the tech sector that went on between September and January might have been avoided had cooler heads prevailed. Had a born cheerleader and cockeyed optimist like Rosie O’Donnell stepped into the breach when the levee first broke, all this carnage might have been avoided.

“I don’t care what the analysts say, these dot-coms make worthy additions to any 401K plan,” is the sort of thing Rosie might say. “All this negativity about profits, growth rates, and P/E ratios is a load of hogwash. Take it from me, the stock market deserves its high valuation. That’s why I’m stepping in as president of NASDAQ.” Meanwhile, Al Berkeley could be sent on a long vacation to Europe.

And there are other jobs O’Donnell could fill-Chairman of the Federal Reserve, for example. Back in January, with the stock market collapsing and the country obsessing about an impending recession, Alan Greenspan finally lifted his foot from the economy’s throat and lowered interest rates. The result was an overnight rise in stock prices. It was a nice gesture. But it came just a tad late, since the economy was already getting the d.t.’s and the stock market was headed for the morgue. Had O’Donnell stepped in for Greenspan in September, she would surely have had the guts and foresight to slash interest rates by at least 15obasis points, reducing borrowing rates, ensuring a soft landing, and allowing everybody to chill out. Had Rosie been running the Fed, the whole market meltdown could have been avoided.

Clearly, any number of troubled American companies could benefit from having a Rosie O’Donnell at the helm. If Steve Jobs can’t do something about Apple’s bargain-basement stock price, maybe it’s time he let Rosie have a crack at it. If the top dogs at the major telecom firms can’t give their stock away, maybe it’s time Rosie stepped in as a sort of upscale carnival barker. Rosie O’Donnell might just be one of our most underutilized natural resources. Had Rosie been around when the global telecommunications market first opened up a few years ago, Iridium would have been a huge success. Had Rosie been around when the futuristic DeLorean was introduced, the whole country would be driving flashy sports cars. Had Rosie been around on Black Friday in 1929…well, you get the picture.


Joe Queenan is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal.