Rosie Planning Sitcom | Robin Williams' Film Sells | 'Barkin' Up the Wrong Tree? | Record Company Panic | Update: 'EW' Show

Rosie O'Donnell Planning Sitcom

Rosie O'Donnell hit the Sundance Film Festival with a jolt of lightning yesterday, premiering her HBO documentary “All Aboard!” to a standing ovation in the huge Eccles Auditorium.

Afterward, Rosie told me she’s hard at work writing a sitcom pilot that sounds like gold to me. O’Donnell is partnering with famed novelist Alice Hoffman, a fellow Long Islander, to create a character for the former talk show host that will resemble beloved late humorist Erma Bombeck.

Hoffman is an interesting choice on Rosie’s part as a partner: she is highly regarded as a critical and commercial success. One of her books, "Practical Magic," was turned into a movie starring Nicole Kidman.

O’Donnell and Hoffman have got the gist of a good idea. “She’ll be a columnist for Newsday, and have a blended family at home,” Rosie said of her character. “Her ex-husband will have to move in with her, with his 10-year-old son from his most recent marriage.”

But don’t think Rosie will shy away from gay pride. The main character will have lost her long-time lover to breast cancer, but speaks to her when she’s working on her column.

“I have a Sharon Gless-type in mind for the her,” Rosie said, “and Colin Quinn as the ex. But that’s just in the working stage.”

Considering the success of "Brokeback Mountain" and "Will & Grace," Rosie’s idea sounds like a winner. Les Moonves, are you listening?

Rosie has incredible comic timing; if the show can duplicate the kind of charm she showed in “Sleepless in Seattle” as Meg Ryan’s buddy, the rest should be easy.

O’Donnell, of course, would shoot the show in New York, close to her home.

And the idea of “new families” is what brought Rosie to Sundance, along with her partner/wife Kelli Carpenter, their kids (Parker, Chelsea, Blake and Vivian), various family members and a lot of friends.

“All Aboard” chronicles the maiden voyage in July 2005 of Rosie and Kelli’s vacation cruise for gay/mixed families

“All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise” will air on HBO on April 6, directed by Shari Cookson, who is not gay. And that, of course, is the point. Even a cold-hearted cynic like yours truly can see that this film is not about gay or straight, but about people trying to form families in a society that does not support family life.

If anything, “All Aboard!” is more about Americans trying to hold on to conventional values than any film has in a long time.

Yes, we do see lesbian and gay couples, but they aren’t having sex; there’s nothing more than hand-holding going on.

What we do see is parents raising children. The kids get to talk as much as the parents, and if you ever had any questions about whether children adopted by gay parents turn out to be gay, etc. -- your questions will be answered once and for all.

Cookson does not sugarcoat the difficulties of putting together such a cruise (on a rather large ship). When the group got to Nassau, the Bahamas, they were met by very vocal protesters who feared their family resort would turn into Fire Island or Key West just by mere association.

By the way, after the screening I got to see Rosie and Kelli with their kids at dinner. They were normal and fun in the way that all families are with kids that age.

And I will tell you that we’re going to have to keep an eye on 8-year-old Chelsea, whom Rosie and Kelli adopted together. She’s a very articulate “cutey-patootey,” as Rosie would say, and ready for her own talk show.

Robin Williams Film Sells at Sundance

Robin Williams’ Sundance entry, “The Night Listener,” was bought by the new faux Miramax for $3 million yesterday. Surprisingly, this film sold before two that I thought would go faster: “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” and “Half Nelson.” Go figure.

“The Night Listener” is a problematic Hitchcockian take on a true story that happened to screenwriter Armistead Maupin.

For several years, he carried on a correspondence with a teenage boy, an AIDS patient, who claimed to have been severely beaten by his father. The boy’s foster mother also entered into the picture. Maupin, who later wrote about the whole episode for a magazine, never did meet the boy.

Williams plays Maupin, Toni Collette is the mysterious Linda and Rory Culkin is 14-year-old Pete Logan.

I like director Patrick Stettner’s work. His first film, “The Business of Strangers,” was a Sundance entry a few years back and still resonates.

There’s a lot to be said for “The Night Listener,” but in the end it doesn’t fulfill its various promises, and the needed payoffs are not there. Like the other New Miramax entry, “Kinky Boots,” this one has the feel of something tasty but not quite cooked to perfection.

'Barkin' Up the Wrong Tree?

Like you, I’ve read reports in the last week or so that actress Ellen Barkin and her billionaire husband Ronald Perelman, a popular and usually happy-seeming couple, may have restarted the divorce plans they were thought to have initiated and then dropped last year.

Here are two thoughts: it was only about two weeks ago that Ellen came to the National Board of Review dinner looking stunning but without Ronald.

Instead, she was accompanied by Creative Artists Agency powerhouse Bryan Lourd, who could jump start her career in about an hour on her say-so. During her marriage to Perelman, Barkin has kept a low profile on the acting front.

The last time I saw the couple, I reported it in this space back on Nov. 22, 2005. They were having a nice, relaxed dinner out at Nobu 57, and there was no sign of trouble.

But public relations turn on a dime, and quite often not all the parties involved are privileged to have the same information. My guess is they stick it out, but then again, I still think Joanie loves Chachi.

Low Sales: Record Company Panic

This week’s total record sales for the top 10 albums comes to fewer than 700,000 CDs -- a disastrous situation with no quick or big releases in sight.

January is a notoriously slow month, but if J Records hadn’t released Jamie Foxx’s album back on Dec. 22, there would be almost nothing to talk about.

Panic, of course, is setting in. Over at Geffen Records, which is part of the Universal Music Group, you’d think they’d be happy that Mary J. Blige’s “The Breakthrough” is hot on Foxx’s heels at No. 2. But I am told that Blige may not be enough to save jobs in the hierarchy.

The word is that both Polly Anthony, who came to Geffen from Sony, and Jordan Schur, who rose to fame with Staind and Limp Bizkit, may be packing their belongings shortly.

A&M Records president Ron Fair is said to be close to consolidating his power by adding Geffen to his responsibilities.

Is there any good news? Well, I haven’t heard them yet, but those who’ve gotten early earfuls of new CDs by veterans Donald Fagen and Paul Simon say they are phenomenal.

That’s all well and good, but if the record labels and radio conglomerates don’t invest in more contemporary types like Ryan Adams, Aimee Mann, David Gray and Julia Fordham, there won’t be a business much longer.

Update: 'EW' Show, as Predicted

I told you yesterday that magazine Entertainment Weekly was developing a TV show with producer Mark Davies, of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” fame.

The subsequent news of the merging of UPN and the WB into the new CW network would seem to be the likely home for such a show.

Obviously, AOL Time Warner, which owns The WB and EW, wants to start developing its magazine titles for television.

The EW show is no doubt just the beginning. Many of Time Warner’s titles, like People, In Style and Life, have sections and information that could easily be repurposed or re-imagined for the new CW. Stay tuned…