In her first major screen commitment since the end of her daytime talk show, Advocate columnist Rosie O'Donnell will play a retarded woman in Riding the Bus With My Sister, an original movie for CBS. O'Donnell is also one of the executive producers for the film, which is based on a book by Rachel Simon, a writer and college professor. O'Donnell had run excerpts from Simon's book in Rosie magazine and optioned it after it was published in 2002. The book chronicles Simon's relationship with her mentally retarded sister, an endearing, feisty, and independent Pennsylvania woman who fills her days riding city buses. Following the death of their father, Rachel is forced to spend time with her sister and soon discovers that she has found a sense of family and friendship in her world of bus drivers and passengers that Rachel hadn't found in her more successful urban life. "This is an amazing book, a beautiful story of the ties that bind," O'Donnell wrote for the book's cover. "Two sisters, as different as they come, find the magic in each other's lives. This book touched my soul."
"It's kind of like a female Rain Man," said Larry Sanitsky, who is also one of the film's executive producers. "I think it's a very touching story, which says a lot about sisterly relationships and what it's like as an adult and a child to have a developmentally disabled sibling in your family." Joyce Eliason, who worked with CBS and Sanitsky on a number of projects, including Blessings and Open House, adapted Riding the Bus for the small screen. As part of the research for the movie, Eliason, Sanitsky, and Rachel Simon went to Pennsylvania and rode the buses with Beth. O'Donnell had won a total of 11 Daytime Emmy awards for her stint as host-executive producer of The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which ended in 2002 after a run of six years. She most recently produced the Broadway musical Taboo.