Ken Tucker says other talk-show hosts should follow her lead and speak their minds

Rosie O’Donnell disses the ”Law & Order” spin-off

I’m always baffled when viewers get riled up about anyone who expresses a strong opinion on television, especially when the person is a talk-show host. The latest example is Rosie O’Donnell, who used a guest appearance by Jesse L. Martin, the newest cast member of good old ”Law & Order,” to dump on that show’s spin-off, ”Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Mind you, Martin doesn’t have anything to do with that recently debuted series, which deals primarily with sex crimes. But O’Donnell praised Martin last week by saying he was on ”the good show,” and then said that while she found the actors on ”L&O: SVU” good — Rosie’s a big fan of HBO’s ”Oz,” and two of its actors, Chris Meloni and Dean Winters, also star in ”SVU” — the seamy nature of the cases on ”SVU” were repellent to her: ”I don’t think we need an entire show dedicated to the subject matter.”

The Martin exchange remained cordial if strained at times, but it reminded viewers of O’Donnell’s more heated exchange with Tom Selleck last spring, when they clashed over gun control (Rosie wants it; Tom’s agin it).

Why are viewers and TV reporters surprised when O’Donnell spouts off like this? It’s one of her most endearing traits — she’s willing to speak her mind. When was the last time you ever heard Craig Kilborn or Jay Leno take a political or moral stand? I’m all in favor of more personal statements of belief from entertainers who come into our homes. Talk-show hosts used to do this routinely.

Ye gods, in the old days of ”The Tonight Show,” you couldn’t keep host Jack Paar shut up for two seconds, he had so many opinions about the world, and it made him a fascinating TV personality. Recently, David Letterman told guest Harrison Ford that George W. Bush ”had the makings of becoming a colossal boob,” and asked Ford what he thought of Bill Bradley. Ford shrugged, noncommittally.

How much more interesting our talk shows would be if the hosts insisted that guests talk about something other than the products they’re pushing — their latest movies or perfume fragrances. Bully for Rosie and Dave: Let a thousand opposing opinions bloom!