Filling the moderator slot vacated in June by Vieira (who went to NBC's "Today" show), O'Donnell was greeted by a rousing standing ovation from the studio audience. And she coyly suggested that her longtime crush, Tom Cruise, had sent the huge flower arrangement on the floor beside her.
The show began its 10th season with O'Donnell joining the returning Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Barbara Walters. Another change was a cozy, blue-and-orange arena-like set with a glass-top version of the famous drop-leaf table the ladies sit around for their "Hot Topics" segment.
Other things were very familiar. There was talk of their children peeing on the floor. Of taking nude baths with their kids — or, in Hasselbeck's case, in a swim suit. Words like vomit and booby were heard. Candid women stuff.
Also mentioned: the retirement of tennis great Andre Agassi and the death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin.
"How long have we been on the air? Four minutes?" said Walters after the show's more-hopped-up-than-usual initial burst. She asked O'Donnell, "How do you feel?"
"Really excited to be here, and kind of ecstatic," O'Donnell gushed.
(The day's guest was Jessica Simpson, complete with micro-mini-dress and a croaky speaking voice — from a bruised vocal cord — that somehow had no impact on her song performance.)
It was just the first of presumably many hours ahead for O'Donnell on "The View." But she made a good start after several years of mishaps (including her short-lived, lawsuit-plagued magazine, Rosie, and her noisy coming-out as a lesbian) that damaged the "Queen of Nice" image she had earned during six hit seasons as host of her own daytime talk show.
Meanwhile, "The View" has suffered from repeated clashes between its sisterly panelists. Most of the friction involved Star Reynolds Jones, who was fired (or quit) in June, but there also were hints that Behar and Hasselbeck rub each other the wrong way.
What brought O'Donnell back to daytime TV? The taped feature "Where has Rosie been?" allowed her to give her own account of the past four years, point by point.
Why did she leave her talk show in May 2002? To rest, and to help raise her four children with her partner, Kelli Carpenter O'Donnell.
"I think last time I got a little swept away by the undertow," she said of her former series. "I think it's been a good break for me, but I think I'm definitely ready" for a return.
The magazine litigation: "by far the most troubling event that ever happened to me."
Her short, "lesbian" haircut of that period: "an error of epic proportion, a mistake on many levels." ("This girl has long, luxurious hair from now on," she added, with a demonstrative shake of her long-tressed head.)
On coming out? "I sort of thought everybody knew" already, she said.
Then she spoke of her luck in landing a lead role last year in the Broadway revival of "Fiddler on the Roof."
"I really am not gifted enough to be a Broadway star," she cracked. "I'm really good to be a replacement."
Who knows? O'Donnell just might prove to be a good replacement on "The View."