Rosie trades lawsuits with her publisher

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They used to call her the "Queen of Nice" but the erstwhile talk show host Rosie O'Donnell will be painted in a different light when a trial starts in a Manhattan courtroom tomorrow pitting her against the publishers of her former namesake magazine, Rosie, which went belly-up last year.

The publishers, Gruner + Jahr USA (G+J), are accusing Ms O'Donnell of breach of contract for walking out on the magazine. She has accused G+J of no longer giving her the control over its content and staffing that she expected.

G+J, a subsidiary of the multinational Bertelsmann, is therefore suing Ms O'Donnell for $100m (£59m) while she has fired back with a $125m lawsuit.

The trial is expected to give a glimpse of the ruthless magazine industry, which has been going through hard times in recent years.

Coincidentally, it begins on the same day that previews open on Broadway of Taboo, a rock musical produced by Ms O'Donnell and starring Boy George. Ms O'Donnell has put $10m of her money into the show.

Rosie suffered a sharp drop in circulation early last year after Ms O'Donnell simultaneously announced that she was abandoning her popular talk show and that she was a lesbian. It was then that G+J stepped in, notably installing a new editor, allegedly without consulting Ms O'Donnell.

"The belief was that Rosie's circulation was really thriving until early 2002 when suddenly people turned away from it in droves," commented Steve Cohn, editor-in-chief of Media Industry Newsletter. The magazine was launched in spring 2001. Its publishers were hopeful that it would replicate the success of Oprah, named after Oprah Winfrey.

Rosie's collapse has served to highlight the pitfalls of superimposing a magazine on to the profile of a celebrity. Similar problems are now gripping Martha Stewart Living. Ms Stewart faces trial on charges of insider trading.

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