Making good on her threats, the erstwhile talk show host and magazine eponym has fired a $125 million-plus lawsuit at her ex-publishing partners, blaming them, not her, for the wilting of Rosie and accusing them of trashing her Queen of Nice image in the process.
Ostensibly, Monday's action, launched in New York's state Supreme Court, counters the $100 million suit brought against O'Donnell by Gruner + Jahr, Rosie's publisher. That complaint, filed three weeks ago, claimed "O'Donnell's bizarre and ofttimes mean-spirited behavior...had the effect of making it difficult, and ultimately impossible, for G+J to continue publishing the magazine." All lies, said Rosie, who immediatedly vowed to sue back.
But O'Donnell's legal crew has apparently been working on the litigation for months, even before she bailed on the magazine in September, precipitating the G+J suit.
The first rumblings of trouble came over the summer, when word got out that O'Donnell was displeased with personnel moves triggered by G+J and the direction of the magazine under editor Susan Toepfer. In her suit, O'Donnell says G+J engaged in a "hostile takeover" of Rosie and claims Toepfer and G+J chieftan Dan Brewster wanted the magazine to "sensationalize celebrity stories" and have "covers featuring celebrities who were in the midst of personal tragedies"--ideas that didn't jibe with Rosie's sensibilities.
When Rosie griped, things got ugly. According to Rosie's court papers, obtained by Mediaweek, "Brewster said, 'I'll ruin you.' O'Donnell replied, 'You'll bring me down? You're coming with me.' "
Soon after, Rosie alleges, Brewster & Co. leaked "unathorized and disparaging statements [about O'Donnell] to the press."
Gruner + Jahr is pooh-poohing Rosie's charges. "G+J has reviewed Rosie O'Donnell's complaint and we stand by our version of the facts," a company spokeswoman tells Mediaweek. "G+J is confident that we will prevail in the litigation."
A reworking of the century-old McCall's magazine, Rosie debuted in April 2001. It was a 50-50 partnership: O'Donnell contributed her name, face and celeb-friendly cachet, while Gruner + Jahr took care of the nuts-and-bolts operation.
Gruner + Jahr had reportedly kicked around the idea of turning the monthly into another, O'Donnell-less women's lifestyle mag, but those plans were scuttled and last week the company announced it was laying off the entire 120-person Rosie staff.
While the Rosie court case is just ramping up, the mag's brief run will end next month. The farewell December issue is slated to hit newsstands November 12.